- Chapter 1 Salvaged and repaired, John Housler
- Chapter 2 Sheds for the poor
- Chapter 3 George Remembers
- Chapter 4 What’s in a gift?
- Chapter 5 The reconstruction of Chad Taylor
- Chapter 6 Fruit Cake folly
- Chapter 7 A sound lesson
1 January 2018
I am not sure this is the end of this story but read if you will.
I find pleasure in not only putting down my thoughts but finding I have given someone a minute or so of fun, reading, while considering the less fortunate. If that is the case, you have thanked me.
My hope is you will pass this along, make copies if you wish and if there is something I could do more, let me know. I always hope for criticism. That tells me, at least someone read it.
Thank you for your time,
Salvaged and repaired, John Housler #1
His father had not returned from Vietnam and his mother had never quite gotten over it. She did work and as a matter of fact, had a pretty good job. John had gone to a good school and done well.
Who knows or can say, just when these things start. A girlfriend moved away at a young age, his mother’s needed counseling and constant wondering about what had happened to his father, his different interests in school and a lot of other things could have led to his problems.
John had left home at a young age, just walking away one night and never coming back, thumbing and walking, eventually finding himself in a town many miles away from where he was born. Getting a job was impossible as people asked to many questions, along with not having any papers, so, soon panhandling and stealing was a must. John Housler started stealing for food and cigarettes and soon he was stealing for other people. He had done a pretty poor job of stealing and after a number of arrests was given a four-year stint in the State prison.
In prison he made friends, learned to do drugs as they were so prevalent and along with drugs came all the other devices needed to keep to the addiction. A good-looking guy, John had managed to lie and pout his way, past the parole board and after only two years, was released to the streets, saying he was going to answer a help wanted add and stay with his mother while he took care of her.
This night, John was on a mission. He had learned where he had been so sloppy stealing in his past life and knew now he was much better at it. A couple of stops tonight, not getting greedy but just enough to pay for his fix.
A car dove by, slowed down coming close to the curb, someone throwing out a small, clear, plastic bag and almost at John’s feet. This was the kind of bag, people often kept weed in. As the car sped off, John looked at the package and it was green but it sure looked like green money. Picking it up, he realized it was, money, and a piece of paper with it. Inside were several bills, He puled them out throwing down the bag and paper. Separating the bills, he found ten, ten-dollar bills. A hundred dollars and just what he needed for his next hit.
He looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the event and felt good that it was not busy tonight. There would be no looking over his shoulder tonight while he stole the high dollar children’s clothes he had contracted to steal.
He would always need some kind of fix just to get up the nerve to steal and then it was never over quick enough. He tried to keep himself looking clean, even if he hadn’t had a shower for several weeks. If you were poor there were plenty of free clothes available somewhere.
He would go into a store just looking around, starting at the opposite side of the store from where he was going to steal. The idea was that by the time he got to the merchandise he wanted, he figured they would be tired of watching him if they were watching. Wearing bulky clothes and leaning over what he wanted, He would grab what he needed, very carefully and fast, pull it under his clothes and ask to use the restroom. Just sticking his head in, he could always depend on the restroom being messy and say he was sorry but he just couldn’t use that one and was going to go down the street but please, “I have a serious problem and very low tolerance for germs. I will be back. Maybe you could clean it up a bit before I return.” That always threw off their attention but still, he would sweat until he was away.
Tonight, was different. Tonight, those rich fools could buy their kids clothes right from the store and pay the high price that everybody else paid. He almost ran down the street stopping at the corner. Maybe not smiling but upbeat anyway. Tonight, he had a hundred dollars and it was all his. Than something happened. He stopped at the corner as the light changed and changed and changed again, more than once. “why would ,,,, why him? Was the person a friend? Did they know something about him? Was the money dirty in some way, maybe marked or who knew?”
He found himself walking back to the plastic bag that by now had blown into the street. He had to wait for several cars to pass. Picking it up he took it under the street light and pulled out the paper which turned out to be a letter.
Unfolding and flattening the crumpled paper, he read,
“This might be good or bad for you. I do not know who you are or if you are the person I threw it at. I am not a rich person but once in a while I have a little money I can part with and I do this. I will never know if I did good or caused you more trouble but I will tell you this. We make our own way. It is always hard and it is just as hard to do it wrong as it is right. If you are a street person you already know that. When you do things right a lot more people respect and care for you. If you keep this for yourself it is because you need people to care for you. Money won’t buy caring people but it might be what you need to find your way back. Be wise and be slow to spend it.”
John looked at the money again and again at the neatly typed letter.
“This guy must be an idiot. Who is not going to spend it? Anybody who throws money out the window has to have a screw lose!”
Something was happening. What was it? Why? He had always just plodded along doing what was necessary to get to the next step. What was it? No one cared and no one even knew him. Oh, there were the dealers and some of the street people, he would exchange a little information with, but so very little and well, it was starting to get to him.
There were few places to sit and even fewer to sleep. Benches had been rigged so sleeping was impossible and even sitting very long, was uncomfortable preventing the homeless from hanging around. Spikes had been put in places where a guy used to be able to lay down in the corner of an old building.
Down the street was a sort of soup kitchen. A restaurant owner had bought an old abandoned building next to his place, re opened a doorway connecting the two buildings and allowed the street people to sit in there while he was open. He would give them coffee and sometimes soup or leftovers. John didn’t know the guy but had been in there a few times. Pushing his stash deep into his pocket he headed down to the soup kitchen. Luckily it was open and although there were no customers in the restaurant there were a few raged souls in the annex.
He knew the rules. “Just go in and don’t be a problem. If you obey the rules I can give you a coffee.” It wasn’t long before the owner came with a cup of coffee as well as a large kettle of soup. Hollering at one of the other street people.”
“Chrissie, will you get some more cups and serve this to whoever wants some. I had it left and business is about done for the night.”
The owner, Frans, setting a cup of coffee down for John, stretched and decided to sit down himself. Like he was talking to nobody he rambled on about some of the customers and how lucky he was to meet so many great people. John just looked at him and for a minute their eyes met. John looked away but the store owner said, “son, you have something to say or ask. I don’t know if I have any answers but I am here for a few minutes anyway. If you have something you want to say, don’t wait too long.”
John heard but it was like his head was spinning off his body. He had a lot to say but he had nothing to say. Finally, he picked his head up looking again at the Restaurant owner for what seemed like a long time. After a while he said, “I just don’t know, I just” The store owner hollered for Chrissie to please bring some more hot coffee. Pouring John another cup and pushing it to him, he grabbed john’s shoulder for just long enough to give it a squeeze and sitting back waited for what ever would come next.
John started again,
“I just don’ know what is going on. Something, well someone, well I got something tonight and for some reason it has kind of confused me. You know from seeing me I just, well I’m no one or at least no one, anybody really cares about. I don’t know if I care about anything. I’m not even sure those are the right words to what I am feeling.”
A long silence and the owner said
“I see a lot of street people in here and I know there is not much I can do for them. I had some hard times once and maybe that is why I do what I do but I don’t think so. I think the reason I try to help, is because I always learn. People tell me about their lives and I can hardly believe they have made it this far. How they get through all the bad things that they have had to deal with is way beyond me. Son, the only thing I can tell you for now is what you are experiencing is, you are thinking. You have put aside all of your usual activities long enough to think. Someone or something has given you an opportunity that is very special. As for advice, don’t stop thinking. Hold on to that for as long as you can. If you fall away, try hard to come back to thinking.”
Frans the restaurant owner gave John a plastic travel cup, someone had left, filed with the last of the hot coffee and announced he had to close up and John got up and slowly walked back out on the street. “What was he talking about? Did he mean, I was thinking about changing?” John had no intention of changing. What did all those people have that he needed? Fancy cars, clothes, warm houses and did they seem any better off, then he was. They still complained. He would hear them. They still needed more things, didn’t have any time, always working or running here or there. So many times, he would hear them talking about things they thought they knew and they were so stupid. Why would he want to be like that? They had been nowhere, they just didn’t know a lot.
It was cold but tonight was not the night to go to the shelter. He just walked. When you are homeless you don’t suffer all the things people think you do. As for the cold, one gets used to being outdoors and is able to tolerate a lot more than most who have homes. The body weathers and although it might not be real comfortable, maybe one forgets what comfortable is. So, John plodded along and not because the restaurant owner said so, he was thinking. He just couldn’t stop going over so many things.
Was he even considering a different life? What makes him think he could ever get back to a life, some people thought he should? He would have to change so much and where would he start. Right now, he sure could use a drink or just a small hit. Ronnie Fender was going to have some samples tonight and he could walk there in twenty minutes. Heck, he had money and he could take the trolley. He could take a cab, but he would never spend money on transportation. Not that kind of money, and here he was, walking in the wrong direction of any kind of high. Where was he going. It had been a long time since he had walked in this part of town and he was actually walking towards the outskirts. He stopped finally, sitting on an old phone pole that had been taken down. He pulled a granola bar from his pocket and sipping on the coffee that by now had gotten cold and he thought some more. Getting up he went at least a mile more, coming to a walking trail and headed up that, just as if he knew where he was going. Finally, he stopped and looked around. What was he doing? He had no idea what was around this part of town and it might just be the kind of place he could be relieved of his cash. A beating is one thing but one doesn’t come on a hundred dollars every day. A bridge had been built over a small creek so John looked around and sliding down the bank found a comfortable place under the bridge. There was cardboard and newspaper around and soon he had gathered enough for a bed. He had done this many times in other places. Taking the plastic bag from his pocket he found a place in the bridge structure, to slide it in. A very small and most unlikely place for anyone to be looking or expecting to find a hundred dollars. Curling up in his little cocoon of paper and cardboard he was plenty warm.
He couldn’t help but laugh to himself about the fact that he was comfortable, while people in expensive houses would be complaining about the cold. They would never understand and a good thing because there wasn’t that much room under bridges. He was off to sleep in no time, waking to the noise of a tire spinning. Climbing up the bank he spied the creator of the nose.
Down the trail where it met the street, was a truck, stuck in a low spot just off the pavement. He walked up to the truck where a man was trying to rock the vehicle back and forth and almost but not getting out of his predicament and only slowly digging in more.
John motioned to the driver and going around back signaled go forward very slowly. Putting his shoulder against the truck it almost leaped out of the hole. The truck pulled forward and drove off. John could see it moving away in the distance. “Not even thanks or a pack of cigarettes. Usually a good deed could at least get him a pack of smokes.
Eventually the truck’s brake lights came on. Turning around and coming back the driver gruffly told John to get in.
John had been around and by now had taken rides with every kind of nut out there. It didn’t worry him as he had nothing to lose and could always jump out. He had done that before too.
Climbing in, it was nice to feel the warm and almost too warm. He wanted to roll the window down but knew that wouldn’t do. They drove a short way, just back to the edge of town and pulled into a drive, passed a house and back to a small barn. The man got out and not saying a word, walked back to the building, opened the side door and went in. John sat there a few minutes and not sure what to do next, but finally followed the man in to the barn.
Was this guy going in to town where John hung out? Should he say thanks? In fact, the guy should be thanking him.
The little old barn was actually cheery inside if a barn can be cheery. It was warm, lighted, and neat. Lots of tools, parts and pieces and a kind of kitchen in one corner with a couple of old chairs.
The man pointed to a ragged but cozy looking chair and over his shoulder, told John to sit. A wood stove was putting out lots of heat and on top was a well-used old coffee pot, already steaming and he poured John a cup. Pulling some eggs and a foil wrapped thing from an older chipped and banged up refrigerator, he started breakfast on a two-burner contraption with a hose leading to a propane cylinder down the way a bit.
“I need ya ta help me lift an engine on ta ma truck and then I’ll take ya where yer goin”.
The hot breakfast was unbelievable. Simple to most pallets but it might have been the predicament or the fact that John hadn’t eaten in a couple of days but more than that. There are times when the worst coffee can taste like heaven and a tin of water out of a stream is better than the most expensive bottled water made.
After breakfast they loaded the engine on the truck. John was impressed at how strong this guy was and between the two had no trouble lifting it. There was already a pile of scrap on the truck and it was easy to see what was going on even if there was no conversation. Slamming the tailgate up, they were back in the truck and on their way.
John had told this guy he would be going down town but they pulled into a scrap yard before they got very far. John said he would unload after the weigh in and the man could go to the office for the information. The truck was reweighed empty, cash collected and back on the road. Hardly a block down the road, they pulled in behind a gas station and up to a pile of scrap car parts. John jumped out and had most of the pieces loaded before the driver could get to them. The driver went inside the station for a few minutes and was back climbing in. He looked in and asked John if he wanted a job.
Just like that, “do you want a job?”
John almost laughed.
And where would you pick me up, at my house?” Should I ask my accountant, if it will interfere with my vast income? Should I send my tux to the cleaners? “No, I don’t want your stupid job, what would you want me to do, Your dirty work?
But he didn’t say that. Maybe too embarrassed but he just said, “sure.” The man said his name was Kyle Lewis and he was a scrap metal man. He could use the help on most days as he had more business than he could manage.
“I usually gets up early, says ma morning prayers, gets the stove a goin in the barn an puts the coffee on. Than I do a short run, roun the area ta see what I might find an I cum back an have breakfast.”
Kyle had figured John to be homeless and said he could stay in the barn nights but he couldn’t bring any friends around and any drinking or drugs were off his property and don’t come in drunk.
A decent cot was arranged in the barn, plenty of heat, food and books to read. John fell into this quite easy and found him self staying.
Kyle would go into the house at the end of the day and would come out early in the morning, have the coffee, John had taken the liberty to make and pretty soon John was making breakfasts.
In a short time, they were learning about each other. Kyle was born in the same house he lived in now. He had been in service, later married, lost his wife to leukemia stumbled around for some years and finally picked himself up. Tried several jobs but never was able to deal with the work place regiment. Hard work was not a problem but the constant bickering and back stabbing was more than he wanted to deal with. He found he could pick up scrap, make smell investments, watch his spending and get along well enough.
For John, this was the real stuff. It had all happened so fast. John had moved into the house but most of their goings on were still in the barn. They put a shower out there and it helped keep the house clean and in order. John was satisfied to have a friend and a place to stay. Not like it was anything he would have ever asked for, it just came and he was riding along. No one had to tell John he would have to give up his addictions. Seeing this clean life and how well it worked, made him just want to clean up, himself. Sweating out the addictions in the grit of the job helped a lot, keeping his physical self, busy, while keeping his mind busy.
In the past, John had picked steel and cardboard many times piling it in a grocery cart and pushing it to the scrap dealer where he might get some change and on a rare occasion a dollar. Once he found a catalytic converter and scored twenty-eight dollars. Something about platinum or whatever was in it but John was just glad to get it.
They went from boss and helper to partners, to business partners in a little more than a year. Both had a decent education, understanding the necessity of knowledge and help from others. They looked into what other scrappers were doing and what parts of that, would work for them. Both were tight with their money and John started a bank account. John fell off a couple of times, picking up a bottle at the party store, staying drunk for two or three days and then back on the wagon. Kyle never said too much but than he didn’t have to. John felt bad enough.
The business went along smoothly, sometimes working together, sometimes apart. One might be picking scrap while the other was in the library or at an attorney’s office working on the business part of it. Right from the start both understood the importance of team work. Picking up, or heading off work for the other guy. They understood, by themselves, they were just a single body but working together they were as good as three or four. Once they bought their first dependable truck, they started making some better money. As soon as they could they hired a driver and helper. They would go in to a business or old falling down buildings, farm fields and buildings being remolded. They went anywhere they could, to pick up scrap. There was no such thing as quitting time. They would get their rest but if there was something to help their business at three o’clock in the morning, they would be there. Some times a business would have scrap after some remodel or demolition and needed to keep the construction people busy during the day. Rather than get in the way, John and Kyle would offer to do their pick up at night. They did their best to accommodate the customers and it didn’t take long for the word to get around. In the beginning they had given the customers some of the return from the scrap but now people were so glad to get their efficient service, they would pay a percentage for the hauling away and gradually hauling became most of their income.
The more they did, the more people wanted them and the more they gave. Taking very little from the profit and always investing or buying better and more equipment.
Around this time, John decided to try and find out what had happened to his childhood sweetheart. Maybe he wanted to brag to her a bit or sometimes curiosity gets the better of us. After some searching by a friend, he acquired several phone numbers in the general area where he seemed to remember her family moving. Five or six calls later and he found her. She was beside her self that he was able to find her much less want to talk to her. Spending a long time on the phone and exchanging a great deal of information, they decided, she would fly in to see him and go over old times. Although her return flight was paid for it was never used and the rest is, as they say, history.
By now they had three children with one on the way. Kyle had married young, so by the time he met John, his two children had gone off to school and were taking care of their own lives. It all just fell into place with it’s problems but few compared to the good times. There must have been an unwritten rule creep into all their lives. “Prepare for the worst but work for the best” When problems came along it was as if you had put too much salt on your food and you just toughed it up. Ate the food and knew the next would be better. In business as well as their family life, there were days when one or the other couldn’t do any thing right. Together they would work it out laughing their way through.
Holidays and any visiting days were always fun, integrating the play time with work time. The children would be doing some small chore allowing the adults to handle the necessary daily routine. Quitting early there would be a meal with a menagerie of leftovers, new recipes to try and special things, brought from a distant place. Everybody mingled and at the same time, respected each other’s place.
A large parcel of property had been purchased where scrap was sorted, a large building was constructed and vehicles were kept clean and working well. People were hired, paid well and so they grew, somedays, never leaving a desk or the property but always working at something for the business.
They put in their own scales, sorting and storing their salvage scrap in large truck containers. The containers were weighed, photographed, locked and set aside ready to deliver at the best time or in some cases picked up by a salvage dealer at the most convenient time. This kept the drivers from having to wait in long lines during peak times as well as selling, when scrap prices were high.
Employees were treated well, with good wages, profit sharing and reasonable benefits. Working for K&J was a much-coveted job and once you got it you were not anxious to lose it. Respect and togetherness were not only encouraged but insisted on.
Early on, they had started brain storming or maybe just talking and learning a lot about each other and about each other’s ideas. It was easy to see as long as they continued along this way, not getting greedy, anxious or lazy they would continue to do well. Their combined experiences caused them to feel satisfaction from pleasing customers, more than profit. Still, the profit came, and did it come!
John had contacted his mother, moved her close to him and put her to work keeping financial records. With the help of Kyle and some of his friends they went to work on finding out what they could about John’s father. New material and information was available and they were able, after some time to contact two of the men from his father’s squad. Stories were told and remains brought home but that is a story for another time. It is enough to say; his mother was a changed woman. Changed for the better.
Both Kyle and John cared a great deal about the poor people in their area. John was more expressive but Kyle, although not so anxious to say so and acting tough, cared just as much. While John had been on the street with many, Kyle had been in service, seen some bad times, seen drugs and addiction, lost some friends and coming home had to deal with a lot of things, many of his military friends weren’t able to deal with. Consequently, they too became kind of lost. More than once they had talked about it but mostly tried to do something by giving a person a job or just buying them a meal. They knew that was not only not enough but more like throwing a crumb out for a mouse and making him more exposed and venerable to the cat. Poor people needed healthy people to care about them. Not to take them home, not to babysit them, they needed people just to care.
After considerable research, talking with others who had tried to help the poor, sharing the stories of the poor they knew, Kyle and John came up with a bit of a plan.
There had been a small old airport, just on the edge of town and it still had some buildings. It had a large airplane hangar, overgrown with weeds and trees, but with room enough for their plan. The property had been idle for some time and purchasing it, was easy. There would be some rough things to deal with along the way but for now it was perfect.
They didn’t ask or wait for a lot of praise from the community, knowing most people approved of accomplishments long before dreams.
With the help of many of the poor, friends and their staff they cleaned and moved a lot of left behind junk some of which became scrap to be turned into cash.
There was no such thing as an opening day. John and Kyle turned the few attached offices into combination work places and bedrooms and often stayed nights themselves with some of the needy.
The street people and poor loved to have a chance to do something and it was easy to see quick improvement. This was poor-man’s therapy. To the poor, this was their place and no one argued the point. While it was getting things done, maybe not as good as professionals, it was getting done and it was cheap.
John and Kyle had cleaned up and fenced in the scrap business, landscaping and dressing up buildings to the point of getting local awards for community improvement. They knew what it would take to make this work and although fancy won’t pay bills, it makes for good public relations. That part was easy. Some simple outdoor cleanup and a trip or two to the landscape supplier and they were looking better than anything around.
The place took shape in record time. In the very first days of purchasing the building, poor people were coming in and eating from donated cans of food. In a couple more days, there was a stove, running water and three meals, a day, being served. Sometimes it was soup for breakfast and cereal for supper but something. Sometimes only cold water while a heater was being installed. Like so much in the building, not perfect but more than perfect to the people being served.
Being salvage pickers and demolition haulers, didn’t take long for them to stock the place with a lot of what was needed. A bed or chair, refrigerator, desk, gallons of paint, shelving, building material, lighting, restaurant equipment, all used, sometimes broken or dirty and sometimes needing repair. Sometimes they would haul in pieces which turned out to have no value. It would be dismantled, taken apart and sent to the scrap yard or recycler.
They would see a person walking the streets, looking like they had no place to go, ask him or her to help, explaining what they were tying to do. Sometimes they would stay and sometimes work out well.
The place was soon crawling with volunteers, some just curious, some with a real desire to help and some glad to find a place they could call home.
The town officials and businesses were more than glad to work with them, as it would help keep the (tramps) off the street. Kyle and John would just bite their tongue and be thankful, these people who thought they were so much better, weren’t working against them.
No two people could have been better at creating this place. Along with family members, they were not afraid of work, dirt, rust and broken things. People would marvel at how they could turn what appeared to be junk into serious dollars. Like many of the people who had been thrown out and now coming in to their place, there was great value in what others threw out. John and Kyle knew they couldn’t fix every appliance or fixture they picked up and they knew they couldn’t fix every street person who came in but that didn’t stop them from trying.
Soon donations came, and as people could see their small donations create so much good will, they couldn’t help but make even more donations.
A wood heater was installed to more or less use up some of the wood scraps while supplementing their regular system. Eventually wood cutters and landscapers would leave some of their cuttings. They became great environmentalists, without ever trying. Recycle, reuse, call it what you want, it was all money and they made it work.
One day, a minister called to enquire about their place and in conversation asked “what was the name of their homeless place?”
They really hadn’t thought about a name but being lost for words, John just said, “Kyle and I thought we would just use our fist initials.”
“So, your name is John and you run a salvage business. What did you say the name of your partner is? Cyle? You are going to call it J C’s Salvage, with a J and a C? I think that is absolutely marvelous. Who would have ever thought of that. ,,,, That defiantly had to be inspired.”
John tried to say he was almost correct and that Kyle was spelled with a K but never could get it said. Before John could get any more out, the minister thanked him, said he would be talking with all the church leaders in the community and there would soon be donations and people to help on whatever was needed. He hung up and John just sat there.
About that time, Kyle came in.
“Sit down Kyle with a K and we need to talk. I may be calling you C for a while.”
John told him the story over a coffee and they both laughed till they cried.
“So, Kyle. What do you think”.
“Well, I don’t see me changing my name at this point considering, all it would take with the business and not only would there be a lot of bibles to rewrite, I’m pretty sure, Jesus isn’t ready to make a change either, but I must say. J C’s Salvage has a great sound. We are, trying to salvage some of these folks and this business has been his all along anyway. So, J C’s Salvage it is.”
Old laundry equipment was the easiest to find and it seemed there was always a volunteer, day and night doing laundry or just supervising laundry. Salvage electrical wire was strung up from wall to wall and lager pieces like blankets, sheets or curtains would be air dried while the clothes would be done in the dryers.
Old wooden pallets were collected, taken apart and with the help of a retired wood worker, visitors were taught how to make everything from bird houses to rustic, tables and chairs.
The right person had agreed to do what he could with all the donated paint. He was turned lose to mix as much as he could, considering type as well as decent colors and painting was going on everywhere. A street person who had never painted before might come along, be offered a paint roller and a wall to cover. When he had done what he could a more trained person merely straighten up the work and everybody gained. The street person did something positive, creative, felt good about it, probably for the first time in many years and JC’s got a wall and many walls painted, free paint and free labor.
People with no place to go, could come in anytime of the day or night, given soup or something to eat, staying in a kind of staging area until they could be interviewed and informed of what was expected of them while they stayed. They would be processed in, assigned a bed area, consideration given to their position and needs. If they chose to go only as far as the staging area, they would be on their own for laundry, food and other services. At no time were they allowed to be rowdy or disrespectful of others.
The areas were divided up into rooms of four or five. Men, women, safety, personality, addiction issues would be addressed and as some of the visitors became more senior, would be asked to be a sort of captain of a room or area.
The people coming to stay would often have baggage, cans, bottles, radios, excess clothes, and medications. Rather than try to control all of it, they would be required as part of the rules, to leave most everything locked up outside of the living area, in plastic bags with their names. As long as they didn’t abuse their use, they would be escorted and supervised while they grabbed what they needed and the bag or bags, locked back up.
Some of the homeless people had been given or allowed subsidized homes long before JC’s came along, and although they were happy to be in a place of their own, really weren’t ready for them. Being lonely, they would invite their friends, often people in trouble like themselves. People would come in with pets, personal hygiene was overlooked and trash wound up everywhere. If there was a drug man around and there always is, he would be at the house in a minute, dealing and making promises. You wouldn’t put a child in a place and expect them to fend for themselves and many of these folks had never had a chance to learn home-making. Putting them in an apartment or house can be like putting an elderly person who has never driven before, on the freeway with a new Corvette. There is going to be a crash. Poor people don’t need, yet another let down, being thrown out of their home because they didn’t keep up to the rules.
JC’s decided to do as much as they could to invite these people to visit and visit often. They would work with them, encouraging them to sit through some training for anything that might help them keep their home and gradually move forward. They would be taught about care and cleaning and how to accomplish things with the least amount of pocket cash.
Things like being thrifty, reasoning out discipline, cleanliness for the sake of health and just having a place to be proud of when some of the volunteers came to visit.
The same volunteers would be taught to fawn over all improvements weather a single flower in the yard, a painted wall or just a clean room.
Professional people were encouraged to come in to JC’s and do interviews, advise people about their rights, fill out paperwork and showed, how to make contacts, and what they would need to move on to better conditions. Military, mental and physical disabilities were addressed as well as protecting any income they might have coming. People came in doing amateur entertainment, serving special meals, cutting hair, giving talks about everything from history to cooking, sewing, construction, race car driving, wise shopping, personal hygiene, and more. A game room was available during approved hours and with consideration being given to all involved. Personal electronic items were allowed but only as far as the staging area and locked back up when not being used.
Any continual violation of rules would put a person back to the staging area but more often the person would be ambushed by a volunteer and encouraged to quietly think about respect and needs of the majority.
Nothing is perfect but Kyle and John had been through a lot so they expected little but even so, the return was tremendous. One of their duties was to constantly be innovative and explorative, looking at new and suggested ideas, and like the salvage business, using what they could and throwing out what didn’t work. They were working with precious human beings here and nothing but their best would be considered. It wasn’t so much to buy a new coat but to notice when one was needed.
John’s mother became involved getting some of the lady’s she had come to know at church, involved. Different groups would take on special projects and so the operation like their scrap business started to more or less run itself. The more people volunteered the more they got to know not only the homeless and the poor, but the more they became familiar with how to use the rules and what to expect. Everyone eventually learned the return value of being a foot washer.
Frans, the restaurant owner John had talked to, the night of the hundred-dollar gift, had been contacted. After volunteering several times, Frans made arrangements to develop a restaurant at JC’s salvage. A year and a half in its development and opening, people were dining and getting to know many of the street people. Frans served those who could afford to eat there and JC’s kitchen, served the street people for free. JC’s became a poor man’s community, center constantly growing, with one service working with another to cut costs as well as hire as many as they could. Getting everyone to understand and appreciate the concept at first, was not easy but as time went on it was considered genius.
The blending and melting, growing and learning, moving to a new place for, not only the street people but the customers and volunteers as well.
They had built a kind of factory, turning out productive people who instead of being concerned about new, bigger, and fancier things than their neighbor, were able to feel good about learning and experiencing their own growth and independence. People were taught that, simple happy lives, were far more achievable and far more satisfying. JC’s may not have solved all the problems with the poor but their success was much higher than the national average.
As the success with the street people and the poor grew, it naturally got into the news and soon people from all over the country were coming to visit and copy their strategies.
There were business problems, family problems, weather problems, and you name it. Maybe not as many as some people but a lot and they learned to take them in stride.
When John firs met Kyle, and gone into his barn for breakfast he had noticed a cross and sort of small chapel with a chair and place to kneel. Under the cross was a large empty glass jar. After a few days, John had to ask and was told, “We didn’t have a place to go to a church when I was in service so we built a simple chapel where ever we went. Someone decided to put a ration can under the cross for us to put our troubles in. You just tell your problems to the can and when you come back it is always empty.”
The story had been printed and posted at every property, they owned, and you could find a small chapel and a vase or container of some sort, always empty.
There were always road trips, making a sort of vacation day, work day combination. One or the other would have a mission and someone would go along. It might be the partner, one of the grandchildren, John’s mother or one of Kyle’s children. One day Kyle cornered John.
John had told Kyle about the hundred-dollar stash and where he had put it so many years ago, and so Kyle said to John, “I’m going to go and steal your hundred dollars from under the bridge. Do you want to go?”
Together they drove out that way, talking about all the water under their own proverbial bridge and how happy they were, giving all the credit to God.
Getting to the spot, they walked slowly up the old grassy trail and stopping at the bridge, John decided to look, just for fun. Crawling down the bank, it was obvious many strangers had been up to the same sleeping arrangement, under there. He slowly moved to the small place he had tucked the plastic bag and low and behold it was there along with a rather large abandoned wasp nest. He pulled it out shaking lose the mud and dirt and carried it up showing it to Kyle. So hard to believe it is still here. I guess we eat tonight, and they both laughed. Driving on, John asked Kyle to stop at the party store where he ran in. Coming out, he had a small bag.
“Have you got a pen in here?” Taking a small plastic sandwich bag out of his store bag and a pad of paper he wrote something and tucked it into the clear plastic bag along with the hundred dollars. Kyle didn’t need any instructions but just started down town and getting there cruising up and down until finding a target. Pulling close to the curb, John threw the package almost on to the foot of a guy, ragged and staggering. Instantly Kyle dove away, only to turn in an alley and backing out to watch. The man kept walking but stopped, looked down, slowly, almost like he didn’t care but picked up the package. Looked at it and looked again. And now looking around up and down the street, he pulled the contents out a bit and quickly stuffed it into his pocket again taking up his pace down the street but seeming to walk a little steadier but not so much with a destination. He seemed to be thinking.
January 24 2018
I wrote this story, at the end of 2017. I never start a story with an ending, or even a middle. That, just comes as I go along.
Something happened when I was in Florida,, from January 10, 2018 to January 20, 2018.
Rented a car and it was new with 700 miles. Not a car one expects to have problems with.
On my second day after leaving 8:00 mass the car was driving rough. A quick check and discovered a flat tire.
Called the rental people and it was going to take a while, so decided to make the change to the spare, myself. The spare was what we often call a donut and not designed to be used a long time.
Pulled out the jack and spare and started to jack up the car.A small pickup truck pulled in. The passenger jumped out, pushed me out of the way and proceeded to change the tire while giving the driver instructions to go back home and get the tire repair kit.
After the driver returned, and while his passenger was finishing the repair and pumping up the repaired tire, I had a chance to talk to the driver. He told me the other guy was homeless. Something I had already guessed. The part that threw me was when he said, “the homeless man was LIVING IN HIS BARN”.
I don’t know how common it is, for a person to be living in a city barn or for that matter just how many city barns still exist. When I wrote that in my story I just pulled it out of the air, or so I thought.
I do know, there are no coincidences in God’s world.
Sheds for the Poor #2
As the concern for the poor and needy became a larger part of what they were doing here at JC’s Salvage, more storage was needed.
Storage for donated food as well as storage for clothing.
There was the need to store things that had been picked up such as old appliances, wood, and supplies for other projects.
Sometimes a project would wait until enough of what was needed could be collected or other times a project would be done, thought up, discussed and accomplished simply because there was an excess of materials.
Early on when John and Kyle were just starting to take in homeless people and getting people to volunteer, one of the volunteers asked if she could build a shed with some of the salvage materials collected.
A bit apprehensive, a meeting was arranged and Julie Prater showed some drawings as well as pictures of sheds she had helped on and more than one she had done completely by herself.
The building turned out to be an eight by ten-foot box, ten feet high, with almost the entire front opening for access. Some old wooden billboards had been donated and were cut to make most of the structure. A flat but slightly sloped roof with a rubber covering was made by using material left over from a large roofing project in the area. A well decorated parapet gave the building a serious side. The facade was done to look like brick. Pallet wood had been collected, cut to a scaled down brick size, treated, stained, and applied with construction adhesive and staples to a grey background. Fake windows and a door were cut in and painted to look like a working part of the building.
The building was completed in a relatively short time due in part to other volunteers taking on a small piece or part of the project. As people saw it coming together everyone wanted to get involved. Old lamps were found to decorate the outside and someone took on the electric for a project. Lights were cleaned up painted rewired and all was arranged so a single extension cord could be used to give the building light when needed. Someone volunteered to paint the outside while another took on the inside. Much paint had been donated so it was just a matter of finding a color and amount needed, sometimes mixing compatible types and coming up with a color to do what was needed. A mural was painted on one outside wall and pictures were painted on the walls inside. A large storage shelf at the seven-foot level had a ceiling fan painted on its underside and around the inside of the building a frog and a couple of bugs painted.
From the outside looking like a business with an upstairs apartment, the building was not only practical for storage but just the thing to draw people curious to know how JC’s was going. It was built to withstand weather and use, strong enough to last many years, capable of considerable storage, while at the same time an artistically fun thing to gaze on. Built on skids, it could be moved to where ever it was needed. The building became a popular subject around the area and brought a lot of much needed positive conversation about JC’s.
Julie turned out to be a great designer, and very artistic helping when she could. She was the right person to get people involved and after seeing this storage building come out so well it was obvious this wouldn’t be the Last. Eventually other storage buildings were going up. Someone would say what about this or that kind of building, a small committee would meet, Julie would do the final check and suggestions, deciding whose idea this time, by pulling one out of a hat. A church with a steeple became popular, actually using one for a small outdoor chapel and selling a couple. There was a hospital, post office, little factory, a bakery and butcher shop with their products painted into the painted in windows and doors. Houses with chimneys and various style roofs. The ideas were endless and in time JC’s had a bit of a storage building village and selling one or two as time went on.
Wendy Dower showed up one day with a request. Wendy was a psychiatrist and interested in many of the same people JC’s had coming in. In spite of being skeptical at first and advising against any support of JC’s, she was now on their side. She soon could see it wasn’t perfect but more and more people were spending more time there and so more of the needy were spending time there and off the streets. It was not just a place for a meal and a bed, but a healthy miniature community with volunteers and helpers coming and going at all hours.
She would encourage her clients to visit, get help or get involved. Spend some time talking with a lonely widower or mother who had lost someone and was volunteering. Grab a coffee, go off to a quiet secluded corner just sitting and relaxing in a safe place. Play cards or put a puzzle together. Help with some of the construction or repairs. Many had taken her advice and had found a home. They would go through a kind of informal training, be advised as to what society expected and how to avoid being taken advantage of. Occasionally a lecturer would come in and a person could go and listen but most of the training, “if it can be called that” came by way of experiencing healthy people working together at something they enjoyed.
Wendy had been advised, by the police, of a young man living in the woods, a couple miles out of town and not doing all that well. There had been some reports of miner thefts and a couple of store break-ins. He Had refused to answer any questions, to the point of being belligerent and their only recourse was to leave him alone, at least for now. The next time they got a call, and if he refused to leave, they would have to hand cuff him and bring him in. They had told her that he wasn’t looking all that well and didn’t appear to be accustomed to living outdoors.
Wendy told John the story and asked if he would accompany her, trying to find this guy. The next morning, dressed in old, well-worn clothes, from JC’s closet they started out almost before daylight. John said, based on what they heard, that would likely be the best time to catch him off guard. They went to the general area driving around until John seen what he wanted to see. Parking the car, they walked to an area Wendy hadn’t noticed. Some trash and worn-down weeds led into a thickly wooded area and an obviously recently used path. Following the path for, about three hundred feet they came to an opening and some debris, a kind of fire pit, card board boxes and one being used by someone for a sleeping area.
John said “hello” and the man in the box came alive in a bit of a jerk and quickly rose to a sitting position, eyes wide and looking like he had seen a ghost. John had talked to Wendy and asked to let him take the lead at first. He just said good morning while Wendy found a piece of half burned log to sit on and pretend to watch John. He scrounged around picking up pieces of paper some sticks and whatever else would burn. Reaching in a bag he had brought and pulling out a piece of fire starter he soon had a fire. A little pot. Two old pop bottles of water and some powdered chocolate, three unmatched and chipped cups came out. In minutes, he had things ready, taking a cup over to this guy still sitting and staring. John set the steaming cup on the ground in front of him and turned his back, talking to Wendy as if they had some kind of plan to go somewhere. After what seemed like a long time, John turned and looked at the man, “Hi, my name is John, do you have a name you want to give me.” An unsteady, “Robert”, came back. John got up, pouring the last of the hot chocolate in Roberts empty cup. John poked around at the fire slowly burning up the leftover coals and then reached in has bag pulling out three sandwiches. He put two of the sandwiches in front of Robert and the other shared with Windy. Once again, his back to Robert he could tell by the rustle of the papers, the sandwiches were being consumed at light speed. They stayed for a long time saying little but telling Robert to hang in there. They would be back tomorrow, but for now they needed to get some business done. Without being asked, they said they would not tell anyone about this great spot and he should stay here as it was safe.
John left the ragged back pack there telling Robert you can have all that is in the bag, there is a lot more where that came from. Just save me the bag. Off they went, neither saying much.
Wendy understood as much as John, Robert wasn’t ready to go with them anywhere and for that matter wasn’t ready to tell them much. That would take a little time.
For most of three weeks they went out, sometimes twice a day, taking hot meals, an old raincoat and other assorted gifts, eventually telling Robert about JC’s place and how they would like to have him stay with them for a while. John showed him pictures and talked about the many projects. There were no locks and at least for a little while, he would stay for free and maybe eventually find something to do to earn his keep if he decided to stay. John said we have a hotel that is empty right now and you can stay there all by yourself. We will see that you get plenty to eat, as long as you clean up a bit and take care of your area.
Robert said he was seventeen and some of the other things he told them were not things they wanted to hear. It was sure, Robert wasn’t ever going home again and it wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to feel safe around anyone.
After church one Sunday, Wendy in spite of being warned by John, “not to go alone” went out and visited Robert. She went out like a mother, taking him fresh baked donuts and hot chocolate from the bakery, a wonderfully aromatic apple pie. Several bottles of water and as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Four pieces of fried chicken were in a container to keep them hot with a small dish of mashed potatoes and gravy.
Robert sat there eating, fried chicken in one hand and a donut in the other. Wendy had brought a cloth to spread on the ground, making it look like one of those magazine picnics. She sat there with him, talking about this or that telling him about what was read at church today and how important God was in her life. She talked about places she had seen but did her best to avoid talking about family things. Wendy stayed for about three hours, by now feeling like she had made some progress. When she left, she gave Robert a small stuffed bear.
“This is just a stuffed bear but it is to remind you that where ever you go, someone is always with you, even if you don’t see them.”
John went to work very early the next morning and found Wendy’s car in the parking lot. Wendy was sitting in the front seat just staring. Pulling up beside her he got out and went to the window tapping to get her attention. She jumped and seemed to come out of a dream, rolling down her window.
Why didn’t you go inside? People are always glad to see you and more importantly need you.
“Sorry, John, it just wasn’t a visiting morning and I just couldn’t share this.”
Oh, Oh, this wasn’t good. Something was wrong and he would go slow.
“I need to go inside to check in and get a coffee. Would you like one?”
“I’d love one but you don’t have to ———-”
In minutes he was back, two coffee’s and fresh rolls baked by one of the homeless at Frans’s “JC’s” restaurant.
John jumped in the car passing her the coffee and opening up the bag of fresh bakery, smelling, rolls.
They sat there a minute sipping coffee and tearing small bits from the rolls.
“What’s up?” John asked and almost wishing he hadn’t asked.
Wendy squeaked out,
“I went to visit Robert yesterday” accompanied by tears and sobbing, sniffling, head shaking.
John Just sat there, nothing to say, nothing to ask but just a time to wait and above all things, listen.
“Thank God, I have a wonderful family or I wouldn’t be able to do this. I got a little more of what Robert’s home life was like and well, you know I can’t tell you much more than you already know from him. I’m sure his parents will eventually be arrested. I have to think of them as very sick people and depend on God to handle that part of it.”
She sobbed some more and it seemed she would never be able to compose herself.
“I believe Robert is almost ready to come in but he will have to be handled very carefully”
Once again, she started crying and through her tears,
“I just wanted to hug him so badly. No one should have to go through what he has gone through.”
By now, Karl showed up and although he knew most of the story, was glad to hear the recent information.
“Do whatever you can and know I will be here to help. You know, my barn apartment is still available and he wouldn’t be bothered there.”
John said,” I think I have a bit of a plan and I will call you and explain but right now we better get. This young man is used to a time when we show up and if he doesn’t see us, gets pretty emotional.”
They drove out to the place where Robert was staying stopping for a hot chocolate and donuts on the way.
By now, Robert was anxious to see them. He still didn’t say much but by all indications he had been preparing for their visit. The area was cleaned up, trash and scattered papers gone, most likely to the fire which was cleaned up to some kind of order.
Soon they got to the point and Robert said he would go with them. Every part of his being spelled fear.
“I won’t have to ride in a car, will I?”.
“No,” looking at Wendy, John said, “Wendy is going on ahead with the car and I want to walk and enjoy this beautiful day.”
It turned out to be a pretty long walk, just poking along, not wanting to give Robert any more reason to be afraid. They talked about the weather, fishing, animals and anything John could dream up to avoid Robert’s family life. John had told him, days earlier, about his own life and how Kyle had rescued him from living on the streets. That had perked some attention and John brought a bit of that up again, reminding Robert of the care and kindness that was there for him.
About a half mile from JC’s, they found Wendy waiting in the car. Seeing them she jumped out and said “I want to have my time walking with Robert” as if it were some kind of privilege. John relinquished his partner position, jumped in the car and traveled to JC’s in time to make sure all was in order as he had requested. He had advised as many as needed to know of the situation or at least, just as much as they needed to know.
By now, privacy was well understood at the center, and the less you said, the less likely you were to say the wrong thing.
Soon Wendy showed up with her patient, walking past the main buildings and back to the storage units as John had suggested. The area had been cleared of most of the staring guests and volunteers and other than a couple of harmless, hellos from a distance not much was said. John met them in front of one of the well-done sheds. On the overhead sign it said “Family Hotel” and on the front porch a bench, small mail box, plastic flowers in a trey of peat a four by five-foot landscape, turquoise painted kidney shaped pool with a miniature “No Swimming “sign was just in front.
No more than ten by twelve feet, the building had a real door and real scaled down windows. It was the second in its style and size, the first designed by a volunteer and delivered in two pieces, to his house and used by his grandchildren.
“This is the hotel I promised and although it probably isn’t what you might have thought, it will give you as much privacy as you want for as long as you need it.”
Inside was a cot or single bed, easily used for a couch, a single chair, small tables, pictures hanging on walls and all set up to be used for a fun play house or quickly turned into a storage building.
There were lights but no running water. Some shelves, a few books, naturally one being a bible, paper, pens, walls well painted and clean. A single sign on the wall. “No one has ever become poor by giving” Anne Frank.
In they went, John caring a case of bottled water, paper towels and a small box of snacks. Wendy came in carrying wild flowers they had picked on the walk in, taking a bottle of water that John had drank from, putting it on the table with the wild flowers.
Wendy said “I have to go to work”, wished Robert well, not waiting for a response and slipped out.
John was pretty sure the tears were flowing the minute she left the building. This time they would be tears of joy, she deserved for arranging to bring Robert in.
John stayed a little while, seeing that Robert sit down and giving him necessary instructions. “We will arrange for a wash station for you and there is a portable bathroom outside used by the people when they are in the yard. It is maintained on a regular basis and when we get you your wash station you can dump the waste in there. You will get a regular delivery of food and whatever else you need twice a day. You can leave notes on the porch and your deliveries will be left there. Whenever you feel up to it, you can come to the main building where there is recreation, food, talks by people who want to help and a whole lot more. There are no locks here and you are free to come and go as you please”.
John left and soon returned with a quickly assembled wash station which wasn’t much more than a large water bottle, wash basin and a five-gallon bucket, the stand smelling of freshly cut lumber.
Clean clothes, from the clothing shed were brought. Soap and personal hygiene products which had been donated were brought.
The next day Wendy advised him he should be checked by a doctor and it would be private in his own room and no one but the doctor she knew would be there. She knew a doctor who would come out and do a physical just like he would get, going to school. Robert looked at her like she had suggested he set his foot on fire but after a while, quietly said his “OK”.
The next day the doctor came out and after the exam, called Wendy at her office.
“I think it is safe to say, you saved him from starving to death. What ever he had been eating was not doing him much good. He has been deprived of nutrition for so long it is a wonder he is still alive. Anyone else, I would insist go directly into the hospital. For now, I will give you a list of foods which will bring him up slowly and especially juices. Also, I’ll send you a prescription for antibiotics with instructions on a controlled diet for starters. There will be issues with parasites but with medicine are easily taken care of. I hope he can adjust to the regimen. As for other things like why he left home, just call me when he is ready to go to court. I will be there.”
Over time, more and more conveniences were arranged and while everything was being used as instructed, Robert showed little sign of moving out of his hermit state. Food and other things would be left on the porch, unless Wendy or John and eventually Kyle who had been introduced, came with the delivery. They would ask to be invited in, chat or share a drink for a short while and say their goodbyes.
When Kyle was introduced to Robert, he asked if he could call him “Bob”. A bit of a nod and a whispered “OK” and from then on it was “Bob” to Kyle.
There wasn’t a soul at the center who hadn’t heard of Robert and all understood what privacy meant. The police had stopped back and assumed Robert was still in the woods. They were just told he was safe where he was and for now shouldn’t be bothered. Wendy told them, her and John were visiting him on a regular basis and for now he should be left alone as much as he needed, never divulging his move to the center. They never asked much and knowing what the law had to offer wasn’t as good as what JC’s Salvage might be able to do.
The three of them worked with Robert as much as they cold, filling him in on some schooling, helping him read and write better than he had and trying to bring him up to date on current affairs. Robert was always receptive but still not talking much and still not ready to be among a lot of people.
Months went by, Robert always cleaning up after himself and keeping to himself. They would see him out sometimes at night when the rest of the area was quiet.
One day it was reported that the breakfast food which had been left for Robert was still there at noon. John went out and finding the apartment empty and it left as someone expecting to return but no Robert. Everything was clean and put into boxes and bags, neatly stored under the cot.
When Wendy heard, all three of them went out to the wooded area where he had stayed and although it looked like someone had been there, Robert was not to be found.
A few days passed and no Robert. No great surprise as this was a common ending to these situations, with the guest, maybe showing up much later or never showing up again. Of course, they felt bad, but life goes on.
Kyle and John had to go out of town on business for a day and used their time to accomplish other things needed. When they returned they would go to the Police and tell them what had happened and once again they would hear from at least one person, “You don’t have the right to keep these things from us. We have the right to know. You are not the law.”
It rained the next day and both John and Kyle decided to sleep in. They had arrived home from out of town in the early morning and were exhausted.
About one in the afternoon a call came into Kyle advising him to get down to the center. I can’t tell you what is going on now but you need to be here. The frantic caller hung up with no more information. Kyle called John and Wendy at her office, giving them what little information, he had and sped off to the center.
All three arrived at about the same time and looking out toward Robert’s Hotel they could see a crowd. Their hearts sank. This could only be Bad. The first volunteer they passed on their way could only say, I’m sorry but you will have to see it for yourself.
Breaking through a crowd of volunteers, guests and staff, they found Robert. Sitting on the bench talking with another guest and offering cookies to others. A table had been set up with a decorative yellow, paper table cloth. Paper ribbon decorated the sides of the table making it look pretty fancy. On the table was instant coffee, A pot of hot water on the little camp stove, Robert had been loaned, a container of lemonade, several boxes of cookies, some hard candies, tooth picks, Styrofoam cups, packets of sugar, creamer, hot chocolate were all in a neatly decorated cardboard box. There were donuts, some small sandwiches, and more. Cement blocks had been gathered for seating.
Above it all on the building was a hand painted sign, “No one has ever become poor by giving”
Wendy met Robert’s eyes and said, “Robert, can I talk with you?”
Sheepishly Robert walked out a way from the gathering with Wendy, John and Kyle.
Sternly Wendy said, “How did you do all of this and what is this all about? You know how we feel about stealing and how it can bring us a lot of problems.”
Robert looked up at her and quietly said, “Yes, and I know what you think. I didn’t steal. I see all the nice things you do for me and Mr. Kyle told me once that when you give, it makes you feel good. I knew I needed to feel good about something so I planned this party. I have been on my own for a long time and I learned some things. I had a little money buried in the woods where I was staying so I went back and got it. Also, I looked for returnable bottles late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Some of the things I saved from the meals you brought me. I haven’t drunk any coffee, hot chocolate or powdered drinks because I wanted to save it. The last couple of days I have been at the library typing out my life story because I think the police will eventually want to know why I left home. I’m not good at typing so it took a long time and at night I just stayed in doorways or alleys finding what I could to eat. I hope I didn’t upset you too much but I had to do these things first.”
There wasn’t a lot to be said or was anyone capable of saying anything and it was the right time for a big group hug that seemed to last and last.
Once more Robert started in, still talking quietly. “I know Mr. Kyle was right because now I have friends and I feel real really good.”
Robert or Bob as he was being called more these days was introduced to the main building and after a while learned the whole place. He was given chores and you could depend on him to do more than his share.
Sooner than they would have liked, the court date came around. Then more dates and more time in court, much of the testimony in the judge’s chambers. There had been two older children, a boy and a girl but as near as anyone could tell, they had left home a few years before and neighbors had not heard from them.
The story came out in the paper with limited details but a horrible story just the same. JC’s had been credited with the rescue and it didn’t hurt to have many donations pouring in. Some with Robert’s name and a trust fund was set up for him. Because of this, Robert was set pretty good financially and the right people immediately set up private schooling and mentoring as he could handle it. Tutors would be paid to come to the center and talk with Robert, teach him as needed and if he chose, others could sit in.
When the trial wound down the judge ordered any properties be turned over to JC’s as they or rather Wendy, had become Roberts guardian.
The center had received a couple of estates in the past and they were able to deal with these things rapidly and efficiently getting the most benefit from the gift.
The house was not in the best of shape but in a good neighborhood and with the skills available to the center it would be up to the best standards in less than a month.
Robert had said he would never go back into the house and asked if he could leave any of that to his friends, Wendy, John and Kyle.
The three went through boxing up anything that might be of value or reused careful to set many things aside for disposal as not wanting to remind Robert of his pain later on down the road.
Most was left to be shipped to a recycler several miles away.
When they felt satisfied they had done what they could, it was turned over to the center remodeling committee which was also the painting committee, cleaning committee, building committee and wore a few more hats. Pretty much, anyone who was willing to be involved was on the committee, choosing one person to decide on the best plans.
In no time at all it was a nice house almost unrecognizable by any former visitors.
Kyle had some friends looking for a place to rent as they were both working and on the road a lot. Dave and June could afford its miner upkeep, had heard the story and figured the house, in the area they needed to be in, would come up.
The rent would cover any needed expenses with legal business as well as physical repairs. All went into an investment for Robert and only withdrawn as needed for the house.
When Dave and June moved into the house it was all cleaned, painted, carpet replaced looking and smelling much like a brand-new house.
Several months after moving in they decided to replace the carpet in one of the unused bedrooms installing something more to their liking and use the room for guests. Dave decided on a day off to tear up the existing carpet and in the process had discovered the original vinyl underneath. Although it was in fine shape decided it was time for it to go. Underneath that was a floor register he was sure had been missed in the cleaning. He removed the one loose screw holding it down and in the heat pipe, found a treasure trove of not only dust but, a couple small toys, papers a small book. Some small change and a picture all tied up in a box.
Kyle was called immediately, coming right out and between the two, went through the contents of the box over several cups of coffee. The contents were catalogued and put back after some study. The box and as was any other things found would be put into storage safely kept for whenever Robert was ready for it.
Kyle and John didn’t see each other as often or at least every day as they had, keeping busy with so many things and as for Wendy, working in her own office away from JC’s was seen even less.
Kyle called an informal meeting as soon as the three could agree on a date, looking forward to brainstorming with his friends again. He had a guest set up a private room for them and asked for a coffee pot and some things to munch on.
Once they were together, John asked,” what’s up? You look serious”.
Kyle volunteered, “This may well be serious and that is why I have called you two in on it. I didn’t want to call sooner as I needed time to do some of my own, seat of the pants, research”.
He went on to tell them about the find in the bedroom, heat vent, of Robert’s former home and that he needed time to see how all of this would be receive by the court system or if they even cared. He had talked with the judge, not showing her any of it and she had said it would only bring more to the media and not do Robert any good. As for his parents, they were not going anywhere for a long time so it would do nothing for their position. “We, the Judge and I have come up with some ideas that will have to be sorted and tested and that is where you two come in.”
By now, they were all ears. They certainly hadn’t forgot about Robert but didn’t see him everyday as they had knowing he was doing well and moving up. Also, they knew they couldn’t afford to have any one guest attach them selves to just a single person or group and Robert was learning to socialize quick.
Kyle pulled out a well wrapped and taped box from under the table while John and Wendy looked on. Unwrapping and opening it, he slowly handed out the contents.
“Before you look at this, I have to warn you, some of ——”
“We understand Kyle. Some things have to be done”.
Passing the items around and trying to maintain some kind of composure, Wendy started in. “These two people in this picture with the baby could be his brother and sister. The picture has been torn, so you can guess who was torn off. I believe Robert is ready for me to approach him with some of this. At least I can ask him about the box and its hiding place and see if he would be willing to tell us anymore. I think it would be best to only show him the picture at first and if he is ready for that. I don’t see the writings being of any value to him at this time as he has enough to try and move past.”
Kyle said, “I was hoping you would do that and John and I will follow up with what ever we can come up with. If these are siblings and if Bob agrees, we need to work on what it will take to try and find them”
Wendy found Robert, Bob to his friends now, taking a short walk so they could have some privacy.
She told him the story and said she didn’t think he needed to go over the things right now but could when or if ever he thought he should.
It was easy to see he had forgotten the treasure and for
a minute thought he would cry. He stopped and said,
“Just one more step moving forward like John says”.
“I will be alright and you are probably right. I don’t think I need to go over those things”.
Wendy mentioned, a picture had been in the box and was it his sister and brother?
“Oh, yea, I remember the picture well and yes, that is them.”
“How would you feel about us trying to find them?” Wendy asked.
“Do you think you could ever do that and how would you do it? I would love to have a brother and sister and relatives if there are any”.
By checking records at the court house, John was able to determine the length of time the family had lived in the house. Neighbors were not reliable as they had move in much later and it was best not to include them in any of this.
John was able to find where they had moved from and with the help of some of his wife’s friends living in that area found that they had only lived there a few years. The third address seemed to be a good one to use to the family name without it being connected with the recent trial. They didn’t want the news people to get ahold of the story and bring more grief on Robert.
Adds were placed in the local paper with minimum details and one of their friends doing genealogy posted some of the same information being careful to not give away the circumstances.
In a meeting with Robert, Wendy told him of where they were with their investigation and told him it might take a long time if anything did come up and it might come up with some bad news.
Robert assured her he had already thought of that but was anxious to hear anything.
One day, about two months later, Kyle received a call from June.
Before she could start, Kyle asked, “How is the new house and how is the job? I suppose you called to complain about the grass or the plumbing” laughing, knowing she would never complain and had always thanked him for the wonderful house.
“I had a visitor Kyle. He came asking how long we had lived here and wanted to know what had happened to the family who had lived here. Before I knew it, I had told him when we moved in and that the family living here had gone to jail. I am so sorry. He caught me off guard and it just slipped out. He seemed to be a little surprised and quickly drove off before I could get any information. I’m not even sure I can tell you what he looks like.”
“Don’t take it personal.” Kyle said, “these things are bound to happen. It may have been something or nothing. If you hear or remember anything else, please let us know.”
Later on, the next day another call came in from the police saying a man had called asking for information about Robert and his parents and of course, we couldn’t tell him any more than what was in the papers. We don’t even repeat that for privacy sake. The man had hung up abruptly and they couldn’t tell any more.
Two days after that a call came in from the library. Someone had called them asking about old newspapers pertaining to the incident with Robert and his parents and all they could tell him, was to come in and do the research. They would help if they we could.
By now, Wendy Kyle and John were frantic. Could this be a lead? They were starting to feel like real investigators and were drinking too much coffee and not sleeping a lot.
John decided it was time to take this a little further. With Robert’s understanding and approval, a ragged search party was assembled. With what information they could muster, a poor description, Roberts last name and not much more, street people were enlisted. Encouraged to say little but just watch and ask only a few questions, off they went. Volunteers became involved and of course Wendy, Kyle and John along with their families got involved. A day passed, two days passed and in the middle of the third day, one of the guests, Billy K, came to the center, moving much faster than usual.
“I got to see John, I got to see john.”
John happened to be in an early morning meeting but when he was told of the message, he said he would have to lave for at least a couple of minutes. If a guest was frantic, and Billy K didn’t get frantic very often, it could mean something he needed to hear.
“You know I drink wine Johnny and you know I drink too much some time. You know I don’t have a lot of money but I’m not dumb. It’s hard for me to get money for wine. People won’t give money to a drunk”
“Please, Billy K, can you get to the story. I have a meeting I just left and a lot of people are waiting for me.”
“Well a few years ago I discovered that some times people don’t finish their wine and throw away, almost full bottles”
By now, John was having a hard time holding on.
“I found out that they throw almost full bottles, in the dumpster, in the back of the hotel down town. I don’t tell anyone else because than the owner would stop me from going there. It’s kind of my own secret. I get there long before daylight.”
“Billy”, John protested, “I need to go.”
Billy K pulled out a crumpled and dirty envelope and handed it to John.
“I found this in the dumpster”.
John looked at the envelope that was sent from some place out west. Opening it found it empty “what am I supposed to do with this?”
Quietly and almost spiritually Billy said, “Look at the address”
John said, “I did, it’s from,,,,,,” smoothing out the envelope and reading the name of the person it was addressed to, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
It was Roberts last name and not a common name to be taken lightly at this point.
“Which hotel? and go inside and tell the staff to call Wendy and John. Give them the same information you gave me just don’t take so long doing it. I love you Billy K you son of a gun. You and I need to talk more. You did a great thing but I need to go and see if this guy is still there.”
“The big hotel down town, next to the city bank and don’t worry John, I took care of that.” Billy said. “He will still be there”.
John didn’t even want to think of what that meant as he ran to his car.
As he pulled up to the hotel he noticed a couple of his guests standing around. As he looked further he could see homeless people everywhere. In front of stores, leaning against poles, sitting on benches and in the parking lot.
One of the regular people who lived at JC’s came up to John. “When Billy K told us to watch to see if this guy left, we just passed the word. I have been here for an hour and more of our friends keep showing up. I think we got people from other counties.”
John went inside and knowing Jimmy, the manager, asked about the name.
“You know I can get in trouble for this, but I remember when you guys helped me out so here is the room he is in.”
Thanking him, John ran up the stairs to the room. When the man came to the door, John introduced him self and quickly spilled out enough of the story to make his point.
“Wow”, the man commented “I think we may have a lot to talk about. Please come in.”
It didn’t take long for John to be convinced that this was the right guy and he asked if he could use the room phone.
Calling Jimmy, the manager he told him to get ahold of one of the street people. “Tell them there is going to be a big party at JC’s tonight and it is starting now. All the pizza they can eat and any thing else we can muster up. You know the routine. Call all the other people to get this thing rolling.”
He hung up the phone and said, “for now all you need to know about that, you will learn in time.”
He sat there with Marcus and as much as they went on, had no doubts this was the missing brother.
Marcus told John about Evangeline the sister and said the two were in constant contact. Both had gone through extensive therapy and had healthy families. They had wondered and worried about Bobby and even if they knew of where their parents had moved would be afraid of what might happen to Bobby if they tried to contact him. They had not heard of anything at the time of the trial and might not have thought it related if they had read it, as it was so far away.
When Eve seen the information on a genealogy sight they got excited but apprehensive. Mark decided to go and do what he could, to find out if they were related to this Robert but by now really wasn’t sure where to go next.
He paused long enough to call Evangeline and through tears, said she would be there as soon as she could.
Mark gave the phone number of the hotel and the name and said she would be able to contact him as soon as needed. John interrupted the conversation and insisted on her having Wendy’s number.
“When can I see him, and can we go there now?” Asked Marcus.
“This is the kind of thing I need to go over with Wendy, Robert’s psychiatrist and councilor. But I am sure it won’t be too many days.” John said.
They talked a little longer and a knock came at the door.
Opening the door, Wendy charged in. Grabbing Mark, she gave him the biggest hug she could.
“I’m guessing you are the brother and You have no idea, what this means to so many people who have worked so hard. I hope you are not too busy for the next few days because it will take at least that long for all of us to get acquainted.”
John jumped in, “Mark was asking how soon he could see Robert, and I told him ….”
“Well let’s go” Wendy interrupted, “I have already talked to Robb, Robert, Bobby, well I have already talked to him and he is ready. My diagnosis is this is something he has needed for a long time.”
Mark asked if they were sure it was safe to go out this early. He had been intending to go out for an early breakfast someplace and found a lot of unsavory looking people just standing around looking in his direction.
“Fear not,” John said, “those are the Merry men of Sherwood. As long as they are around you are safe.” Chuckling to himself as Wendy gave him that, “I can’t believe you just came up with that,” look.
Down the steps, John pausing to whisper something to Jimmy at the front desk. Than out to the car and down the street to JC’s. All along the way people were walking, some in twos and some alone. They seemed to know Johnny’s old car and they all waved.
When they got to JC’s it was a buzz with, things going on. A fire was going in the large fire pit. Seats of every kind were being brought up to the pit. Music was coming from at lest three radios and a pizza wagon was dropping off pizza.
As the driver was leaving he stopped.
“Pretty early in the day for pizza John but when Jimmy called me at home I figured it was important. Besides we like the business. I will be back with the next load pretty shortly and you will have to tell me when to stop.”
Robert was there waiting at the door of the main building and when the two met the whole place seemed to stop and just watch. Not too many words were exchanged as that would take a bit.
John told Markus “when something important happens, we usually include a trip to the chapel”.
Both Marcus and Robert were in agreement and off they went hand in hand shoulder to shoulder, Robert pointing the way.
John went back to the meeting room and was greeted with, “don’t even think of apologizing. When we heard of what was going on, we were glad you went and when we heard it worked out to be the right person we just sat here feeling like someone had just won the lottery.”
“Thank you, I don’t think I deserve such patents and someone has, won the lottery or something greater, but for now, let us get to business so you people can get to what you need to do.”
The meeting finished taking less than usual to come up with final decisions and exchange information. Out on the yard people were moving around talking and enjoying the day. Markus was being introduced to everyone by Robert. Wendy was there talking with among others, the Judge who had postponed court after hearing the news. The police were there talking with the people and assuring them this was a friendly visit. They had seen an exceptionally large group of street people down town and were curious of the reason.
Later in the day, a small private jet flew over and seemed to be lower than usual, heading toward the new airport about thirty miles out. Sometime after that, A helicopter flew over coming from the direction of the airport. A large cardboard sign was dropped, almost landing in the fire. One of the guests brought it to John.
It had a shoe tied to it and I love you Brother, had been written with purple nail polish. In smaller writing, please pick us up at the hospital.
John showed the sign to Marcus and Mark said I think I know what this is all about. For now, we need to get to the hospital and pick her up.
Wendy heard the conversation and asked if she couldn’t go alone with Robert and a driver. The hospital was less than three miles away and they would be back shortly.
Seeing John was still puzzled over the whole thing Mark explained, Eve’s husband was a businessman owning more than one place. His work and contacts had him flying all over. He probably was in the private jet that flew over earlier. When he got to the airport he would have called ahead for a helicopter to bring him closer and sooner. The hospital must have given the pilot clearance to use their heliport to land for a few minutes.
When Wendy returned with Eve, she confirmed Mark’s guesses. Eve had called Her husband and there had been a kind of plan, discussed for years, hoping that one day Robert would show up somewhere. Almost immediately they were in the air, leaving instructions for their children. They had called a close uncle. He would help the children, find a place for the pets, make as many contacts as they could and help them to get to their flight on time, arriving late the next day.
The party lasted for three more days, with the children as well as other relations showing up. Wendy, Kyle and John’s family naturally got involved, and there were outings, things to see and so many stories.
Meeting so many of the people at JC’s gave them a whole new perspective on the word marginalized and they all felt it was a tremendous lesson for the children.
There was, a trip to the woods, sitting on a log, with hot chocolate and donuts shared, at the place Robert had stayed.
The Shed/hotel Robert had stayed in was admired and photographed. With the children’s insisting and Mark’s agreeing they should have one just like it. July Prater agreed to send a blue print as well as material list to replicate the Hotel/shed which would be used for a play house.
They had all talked together and Robert would go back home with them. It would be good for him to get away from the area, at least for a while and if he ever needed, a phone call would bring him back. Wendy felt sure he was ready and John and Kyle were sure he would be a great help around two homes with parents who were away so much.
He had developed many skills, in the short time with them and had the desire as well as ambition to go a long way.
Eve’s husband commented, I know he has missed a lot and it will be a while for him to be where he should be scholastically but I can’t help but see how he is way ahead of us in his attitude and demeaner. We are going to get more out of this than we can ever return. We can’t thank you enough for ,,,,, well, salvaging Bobby.
Just before leaving they all made a trip to the little outdoor chapel. Marcus took out his wallet, removing several bills and started to put them in the empty jar. Robert stopped him and said, “no, I have already put enough in that jar for all of us”.
“But it’s empty” Mark said.
Robert looked at him and smiled. “It sure is, and I want it to stay that way. I will tell you all about it later”.
George Remembers #3
He remembered being chided by his parents for his coming home late and the condition he was in and later that day overhearing them laughing with friends and talking about how drunk he was. “Junior did manage to make it to the bathroom”. “Oh, don’t be too hard on him, I remember you telling about spending some time in that cool oasis with the white ceramic wishing well”. They all laughed. “And I was wishing I could die” Another uproarious laugh.
His parents had tolerated a lot when he was young. It seemed to have started somewhere so far back. Someone found a half empty bottle of whiskey. Another time a few cans of beer from a parent’s party when no one was looking or counting or maybe even caring. Long before he got to high school, he had been impressing his friends with his drinking stories. In high school he carried on the same and by that time had a tolerance for alcohol that amazed the best. He was invited to all the crazy parties or just crashed them. Smart enough to get through high school even if it meant finding someone to cheat for him. College was the same and there always seemed to be someone to overlook the drunkenness, pills and drugs. “He was such a great sport”.
A decent job out of college and so it went. He had not married although he had a number of chances and always the wrong one. Georgie Lyle just couldn’t see himself tied down. After a number of missing clients because of his drinking, his boss came to him and said, “we are running a business here. You are going to have to make a decision. Either you give up the drinking or we have to let you go.” His boss told him that they needed him and would do anything they could. It was obvious to everyone, George had a problem and needed to get help.
That worked for a little while and he actually slowed down but soon one more and one more and he was right back in the same boat. One day George just didn’t go in to work. Didn’t call or talk to anyone. Slept late, went out and bought a bottle and tried to forget it all.
From there it didn’t take long. A quick exit without giving a forward address, no rent money, no place he wanted to go but just slide off to anonymity. Someone, he had told he was out of work, in a bar, bought him a drink and was telling him about jobs in South Carolina. “As it turns out, I have a friend who is going there tomorrow. He drives his own truck and is always glad to have a passenger”.
A night in a shelter with an early coffee, grabbing an apple to disguise the licker smell before they sent him on his way, he was off to meet his chauffeur. Pleasant enough ride sleeping a bit or faking sleep to avoid too much conversation George was now in a warmer part of the country. Taking his drivers name and address, thanked him and promised to stay in touch.
South Carolina turned out to be just like so many other places with all the suckers and do-gooders offering everything from shoes, blankets, clothes and money. He was given personal hygiene products and pain pills for his reported wounds he had received in the war. If George wasn’t anything else, he was a good talker.
One of the gimmicks he had learned early was to carry a small tattered journal and ask people who had offered things for their names and addresses so he could thank them. That always got him even more.
He would only stay a short time in one city or town depending on size. Even though he was drinking most of the day and night, he would try to stay with a kind of plan. Try not to appear drunk when panhandling, and stay as clean as possible. Staying clean was easy, changing clothes every time he visited a place, he could get clean ones and that was everywhere. Rarely would anyone question his stories and if they did, he would just move on to the next place and he would be given a whole new wardrobe or at least enough to last a few days of sleeping out of doors. Shelters, thrift stores, churches, organizations, and just gullible people seemed to all be ready, like fall apples to be picked. Even better, he wasn’t doing anything illegal.
On a cooler day he was walking in the country. He had just left a city where he had done well for a couple of weeks but felt it might be a good time to move on before someone figured him out or maybe made trouble down the road. He chose a small gravel road from a map at the library. Poking along, occasionally taking a sip from the bottle in the coat he was carrying and talking to the frogs, snakes, and all the other moving things, his eyes hit on the corner of something leather. So much junk on the roads these days he thought as he passed by, but than about twenty feet further he thought, “What if?” I am not exactly late for anything and he walked back. Almost missed it coming from the other direction. Pulling it out of the tangled weeds, making it obvious it had been there for several days if not weeks. It was a woman’s wallet.
Opening it he found it had several green bills and they were not all singles. Looking around he tried to think. Normally the thing to do is grab the cash and get rid of the rest quick. All the “what if’s” started coming to mind again stuffing it in with the whiskey bottle would wait until he knew he was away or hidden from anyone coming by.
A couple more miles down the road, he was getting a little hungry and seeing a little shack of a house decided to check it out. Ditching the bottle and wallet in a low spot under some brush he went and looked around the house. No car in the drive and no phone line running to the house but they probably had a cell phone. He walked up the lane to a little porch and a door that looked as worn as the rest of the place, knocking lightly on the door. A woman probably in her late twenties came to the door. Told her his story. “Stopped to ask if I could get a drink of water from your hose if you have one. Someone ran me off the road, beat me up and stole all I had. I was headed to some relations about ten more miles down the road and I intended to surprise them. You see they didn’t know I ever got out of the POW camp” he lied. “Yall just come on in. Got some iced tea in the fridge and your sure welcome to that. “
She sat him down in a broken but clean old chair and a clean quart fruit jar with Iced tea. The jar rattled from the ice when she had brought it and normally George JR. wouldn’t be caught near a drop of Iced tea but this was hard to resist. It went down surprisingly easy as he sat there checking his surroundings. Pretty easy to see this person was poor or at least doing a good job of making it look that way. Sparse is hardly a word for what he was seeing, yet it was apparent she was and had been living here for some time.
While he was lost in his imagination, she had put together some food for him. “I’m sorry this is all I can give you right now, and I must ask you to move on. My two children will be getting off the bus in a while and they can be afraid of people they don’t see often not to mention what the bus driver will have to say.”
Startled he just said “yes mam, you shouldn’t have done that. I’ll do alright” and he almost felt guilty and wanted to tell the truth, that he was just another drunken panhandler. Instead he realized he had to rush out before being seen so he just left giving her one more weak, “thank you”. Down the road a way’s and out of sight of the house he had just left, he moved sideways into the brush and a wooded area. There he found a place clear and dry to sit back against a tree and relax. He opened the brown wrinkled bag she had given him and found two sandwiches wrapped very neatly in clear wrap and with a couple sheets of paper towel. There were two home made oatmeal cookies and an apple. Along with the food was a note. “Thank you for being my opportunity to give. There are not enough of them.”
He ate one of the sandwiches and it was still in his hand when he fell asleep. He felt like he had slept for many hours when something woke him. Slowly opening his eyes, he seen a long-tailed weasel eating the remains of the sandwich he had been eating. For a while he watched the little guy through partially opened eyes. When the weasel started for the bag, he shoved him off, the weasel gone like a bullet. As soon as he had chased the weasel away, he realized what he had done and wanted to cy.
This poor woman, whoever she was took him in, gave him food and drink and sent him away better off and even thanked him for letting her serve him. He just shooed off one of the few creatures who would come around him, for the sake of a few crumbs he didn’t even need.
He sat there holding himself saying “God help me, God help me, God help me.” It might have been timing, exhaustion, hunger, timing, some reaction to the location of the stars. Repeating over and over “God help me” eventually he fell back to sleep. When he woke it was late. A bright moon was up and that was good. He could see that the weasel or someone else had finished off the rest of the lunch and he wished he had taken better care but than he remembered the little guy he had chased off. Laughing to himself he whispered, “Thank you for the opportunity to give. There are not enough of them.”
Getting up, the stars were out bright, he backtracked down the road to where he had hidden the wallet and his bottle. Picking them up he quietly and carefully headed in the direction of the little house.
When he got to the house, he set the wallet on the edge of the porch where he was pretty sure it would be seen. “Who knows, he thought. She might be able to buy some food or what ever she needs for a few days and what good was it going to do him.
Without thinking any more about it he hurried off and down the road, walking the rest of the night slipping back into the woods in the daylight for a little more sleep and then back down the road. Sometime just before noon he came to a small town. Having a little money in his pocket decided to hit the grocery store for what ever he could get with his bit of change. He had only been in the store for ten minutes or so, when someone approached him. Quickly George said, “hay, if I’m a problem I will leave”. “No, no I’m the manager and I need something. You look a little hungry and I need someone to help unload a truck for me. You can eat while you are working and as much as you want”. George knew he could eat quite a little and what cash he had wasn’t going to buy enough to bother. “Sure, let’s give it a try” While he was working Fred the manager helped when he wasn’t called away for some other duty. George started in slowly but seemed to pick up steam as time went along. The work became methodic and a kind of rhythm made it go along pretty fast.
The manager brought him sandwiches from the deli. Hot coffee and plenty of iced tea. Fruit and vegetables if he wanted. Pieces of pie. He was encouraged to take a lot of brakes and at least an hour lunch. A table and chair had been set up outside the truck and it was loaded with food for him to devour.
This was a very large truck and the unloading lasted into the dark hours. Fred explained that he generally used the fork lift from the hardware store. Basically, the town fork lift and it was out of order and the trucker couldn’t wait for another day.
When they were done unpacking, sorting and shelving some of the product Fred thanked George although he never knew or asked his name. Fred told George that if he hadn’t come along, he would have to send the product back even after he paid for it and most likely it would be dumped. “I tell you friend, that would have been a lot of money out of my pocket. I am also the owner. He went up to one of the cash drawers and pulled out what looked like a great deal of money. This is not near enough to pay you for what you have saved me I want you to” “Stop right there. The deal was I would eat my wages. If you feel the need to part with some of that, there is a small house about twelve miles out the road where a poor young lady lives. She has at least two children and I believe she could use some of that.”
“I know the place and didn’t resize anyone lived their full time. I will check it out my self and do what ever I can, but you need to be paid” Fred said.
George came back with, “OK, while you are crunching the numbers, I am going to use your john if it is all right.”
“Don’t be too long, Misses Fred thinks I love this place more than her”
George JR went back to the bathroom but instead of going in he just slipped out the back door, filling his pockets with some of the food they had left next to the truck. Outside he managed to vanish into the shadows and being a small town made it easy to be gone and down the road quickly.
Once more, back on the road and carrying the same bottle, realizing he hadn’t had a drink in many hours. What was going on? He seemed to feel ,,, he seemed to feel,,,, .
For several more days he moved along. Picking food out of store trash dumpsters at night and exchanging clothes in thrift stores willing to listen to his stories and outfit him for free. Sometimes shoes were a problem but he would take them if they were to big and fill them with newspaper or weeds to make them fit. An extra pair of sox stuffed in the toe would work at times. After a while he got rid of the bottle. He hadn’t taken a drink since the little old house and the sandwich lady.
In one of the thrift stores he went to, there was a speaker talking about AA meetings and although he had known they were not for him, decided to go and see just for fun. Not that he remembered anything about fun. While he was at the meeting, he heard from one of the other guests about a place up north called JC’s Salvage and how they had a loose program that you could go and just cool off. Sleep all day, get drunk or get busy. You were given what was needed but you had to make the choices. Stay there for ten years or ten days and do pretty much as you pleased. Just stay out of trouble with the law and don’t bother those who were trying to move up.
George heard it but like so many things we hear it takes time to get to that part of the brain that really analyzes it.
It was at least a couple of months before George decided this might be a chance for him. He had stayed away from drinking, Went through the withdrawals by himself in the woods. Stayed sick for weeks but was on some kind of mend.
What about this place called JC Salvage? He had looked it up at the library and found a few comments about it on line. It sure didn’t sound like heaven and no one was promising gold streets but, but,,, there was that feeling again. George had been stopping in churches once in a while. Not so much for a service but just to sit in the back, alone and think.
One day a young priest came in the back door. The church was not lit really well but enough for him to see George. Coming over he welcomed George and said I am father Mat and if you ever need anything I am here. They shook hands and Father Mat walked up toward the front.
“Wait” George hollered as it echoed around the empty Church. A little more quietly “I mean,,,,,,, Yes I want to,,, Can I have a word with you?”
Father Mat said “Of course and if you don’t mind, we could go off to the side up front where it wont sound like we are in a concert hall”.
George met Father Mathew half way up the isle and together they strolled the rest of the way to the side exchanging just a little information.
George was surprised to be able to talk so freely and at the same time not be asked a lot of questions. On the other hand, both he and Father Mat would understand that Father Mat would know most of his story without George telling it. He asked Father about JC’s Salvage, with father met saying he had heard a bit but would check into it for George if he would like. George agreed to get back to him and they parted.
Everyday after that George found himself in the same place in the same church. For two weeks no one showed up other than a couple of older ladies lighting candles, staying a bit to pray and leaving. George was lost. What to do now? Just some crazy idea of this pie in the sky shelter. About now a guy could use a bottle. Leaving the church, he notices a sign “Office” with a narrow, pointing to a small building on the side. He thought about it and thought what’s the use, and walked away. Than he remembered going back for the little hint of leather that turned out to be a wallet with money. Turning around he marched back to the office and as he was going up the stairs a woman was just locking up. “Can I help you? “ Oh, I was just looking for Father Mathew and “ “I’m sorry but Father Mathew is gone”. Like a hammer in the stomach he wanted to run but could hardly breath.
He had made a connection and it had taken all he could do to open up to someone. How dumb could he be? The world is not some place for dreamers. It is all about survival. Get what you can, get drunk if that helps and move on. No one cares and no one wants to care. The world is just one dark dark fog with vicious creatures lurking everywhere. Fight them off when you can and get high so you don’t have to think about them the rest of the time.
“He’ll be back in less than an hour.” George woke from his thoughts. “What”, I mean “What did you say” “Father Mathew, he has prison ministry every day at this time and he will be back shortly. He loves working with the prisoners and never misses a day I can let you in to the waiting room if you like”.
“Does he come in this way? I can just wait on the steps.” By now he was shaking and just needed to sit. She moved away saying, “it shouldn’t be long. He is only allowed to stay during a certain time.”
George had his head down when a slight touch on his shoulder startled him. Jumping up “Father Mat,, I thought I’ve been here I , I .” Looking at him Father asked if he had time to come in and have a coffee.
Unlocking the door, both went in to an already made pot of coffee and some fresh rolls. “Cream or sugar?”
“Black will be fine” and slowly George got out what had happened and that he had ben here everyday waiting in the same place at the back of the church.
Father Mathew sat down, sipping his coffee and it seemed he waited a long time before he spoke. “My dear friend, some might find this almost funny. For me and for you it is far more serious. I don’t know if it is good serious or bad serious but I believe it is up to you and please give me time to explain. OH, and by all means take one or two of those rolls, they are not near as good stale. One of the church lady’s makes them.”
“As you may have been told,” he continued on, “I have a prison ministry. Because of all the prison rules, bureaucracy, and selfish non-caring people I can only go to the prison during certain hours. I can only have small groups in the chapel and so I go every day and still don’t get to see all that want to be seen. I have talked and fought for more and better times but so far to no avail. I have proved that security is not an issue. They have cameras and extra guards as well as plenty of locked gates and doors.
“I don’t know why I am telling you this but the day, I met you in church was a rare day. A main water pipe had broken and with all the repair people coming and going, the warden had ordered all the prisoners to be kept in their cells and I was turned away. That is the only reason I was here that time of day. If you hadn’t come to the office, if you haven’t met my secretary Janet if you hadn’t stayed, you would never have known that. Now, you can make a big thing or a small thing out of that. To me those are smaller miracles and I just sort of save them in my memory.”
“One more thing. Don’t think I didn’t look for you every day, never dreaming you would be at the church early. Had I thought of that, I would have put a large sigh on the back seat asking for the loud guy to come and see me in my office later.” He laughed and asked George if he could give him a hug. George got up and as this was something, he had not done in a long time gave Father a rather uncomfortable hug. “Good, the hugs will get better with time” father said.
Father Mat told George that he had checked and even called JC’s Salvage and from what he could glean it would be a great place for George to start to reclaim his life. They had told father that they would have some kind of work for him if he wanted and it wouldn’t pay a lot but would help pay back for food and whatever services he used, while building a small nest egg.
I have hardly gotten to know you but will hate to see you leave and by the way, we have a spare room with a shared shower you are welcome to use until and if you decide to go north. You would be expected to do your own laundry including bedding and we have laundry machines. It is simple but it is what works for me. Breakfast is at 6am and you are welcome to come. There will be a knock at the door but only once. If you don’t respond you are out of luck.
How could George refuse? He was up for anything. It was like his brain was disconnected and he was on a leash. Everything was coming at him and he hardly had to make a decision. Was this good or bad. Some kind of trickery? Going to the room that had been pointed out he found it the smallest room he had ever stayed in. It had a simple bed, small writing table and a lamp. That was about all. Almost immediately he went to the shower and there hung a kind of heavy robe you pull on over your head complete with a hood. A note said, tonight you can be a fifteenth century Monk. Wear it until you have laundered your clothes.
The shower was great and he felt like maybe he had stayed too long. Watching the dirt and grime go down the drain he wondered how long he could stay clean. Clean inside as well as out and would he be pulled back to his old ways? This was fairly easy now, when you were being treated so well but what about tomorrow and next week and next year. He had been out long enough to see a lot and knew it wouldn’t be easy. How many had he seen fall back. What made him think he was any better? Somewhere bells were ringing. Father Mat had told him that bells would be ringing for various things but he hadn’t caught any of that. Well it brought him out of his depressing thoughts, so that was good.
Back in his room he found a small plate with a sandwich a large beautiful apple and a beautiful engraved and steaming tea pot. He poured the black tea in the provided matching cup, sipping and savoring the cut pieces of sandwiches. Setting the cup down he settled back on the hard bed. All of a sudden, he heard a single knock on the door and the lights came on. What the???? He didn’t remember turning the lights off. He didn’t remember falling asleep. He was sure he would find a tooth brush and tooth paste in the shared bath but Oh well. Off he went in his Monks robe and sure enough tooth brush and paste he badly needed. A little hand made map of the layout of the building and where breakfast was being served. He was ready for some food and off he went, finding the breakfast room and Father Mathew with another priest. Looking up they greeted George and the other priest started laughing out of control.
Looking at George he said “I’m so sorry but I Just couldn’t hold it in. That robe fits you a lot better than it fit Mat here when we were doing the children’s play”
George looked at Father Mat and realized on him it almost hit the floor and Father Mathew was at least a foot shorter. Recognizing the fun, he responded with, I’m too new here to say much but at some other time I might have just as much trouble keeping it in. I’ll bet the floor was kept clean”
Father Mat pretending to be put off by the remarks said, “What say we thank the lord for this meal and while we are at it thank him that I had something to cover this giant.” Another laugh and prayers were said. More prayers than George had ever heard at a meal but for some reason comforting and welcome like something he would like to have said.
The meal was porridge or oatmeal as he had always called it with fruit on the table. The expected pot of tea and that was all. They ate quietly and shortly the two priests excused themselves and disappeared.
George found the laundry with the hand drawn map and found reading material while doing his wash. Out the back was a small enclosed garden and carrying a book with him, found solace in just being here. Somewhere around noon the secretary found him and said, there is a lunch prepared for you in the dining room and off she went before he could say thank you or no thank you or anything.
Once again in the dining room was a sandwich of some kind of meat minced and a cheese he had never tasted before but good. Some fresh vegetables were cut to a handy small size and of course the tea pot.
Later when supper time came the food was a little heavier and a bit more filling. The prayers were longer and conversation went on for more than an hour after, while enjoying tea and some special homemade cookies. George would find out that the people of the church were responsible for all the great food and wanted to bring in more but were asked to hold off as the priests wouldn’t throw out the left overs and couldn’t afford to put on the weight.
One day father mike said, “They would have us eating pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti every night and a full breakfast every morning. We love them and we also love how they cook but wearing it is difficult”
This style of living, went on for several days and one day Father Mathew came to him. “I have a ride for you if you want it. You will be taken a good part of the way and I feel sure, between the Lord and you; the rest will be easy.”
George knew this would not be easy. The day had been decided and one day before breakfast a note came under the door, “your ride will be out front in thirty-five minutes. We will not be saying good by but only know we hope you do well and would love to see you again. God’s speed” it was signed Your brothers in Crist, Father Mathew and Father Terrence.
George tucked the note in his pocket. That would be the only thing he would have to remember them by.
Out the front door was a large delivery truck. The man at the wheel looked like he was anxious to be moving along and as George didn’t have anything to carry or pack it was easy.
“My name’s Cal and Father M says you usually wear a Monks robe but you are going In-cog-nee-to today. You church people sure don’t carry much when you travel.”
George just laughed saying he had plenty where he was going. The ride went well talking about farms and farm animals, Cals family and how lucky he was to have all his grandchildren healthy. They talked about a lot of things but never got into what George did or why he was on the road. George could only imagine what Father Mat had told him.
The rocking and noises of the road soon had George sleeping and other than a stop for lunch found them moving along very well.
When they arrived at the place where they had to part Cal said “let me get your bag.” Out from behind the seat he pulled a small bag. Handed it to George, said his goodbyes and pulled away, leaving George in the middle of nowhere. None of this had been rehearsed so George could only just go along.
He had a pretty good idea what he would find in the small travel bag. Opening the bag, he found a lunch, two apple and s, sandwiches, a few cookies and of course the brown monks robe. An envelope with Father Mathew’s address and a note, “My prayers will go for the happy monk, I believe your future to be full of love and caring”. Nothing more said but in the envelope was a cross and chain.
George put the chain on and it made him feel a little better. Up the road was a small store and gas station. He still had a little money and could at leas buy a candy bar. He was surprised to find this small place open this late but walked in. Much to his surprise, the store owner called him by name. “
You George? Got yer ticket right her, bus-el be long shortly. Guy called, said you’d have a cup a tae”
George sat there at a tiny little table eating a sandwich with a wonderful cup of tea. “Hant many folks dink da tea naw-days. Wife makes it an says hant but one way ta makes it”.
“Well, I think it is about the best tea I ever had” George said. “Please be sure and thank her.”
“Oh, Hant nutin, She makes if fer all the bus riden folks. Says it’s her way a passin long some love”.
George asked the man for his address and was given a handmade business card. About that time the bus pulled up and blew the horn. George grabbed his bag, the store owner handed him a warm Styrofoam cup with a sip lid and he was off. As he was leaving the store, he noticed a cross above the door and a sigh, “Pass along the love, where ever you go”. He looked back at the store owner and pointed to the sign, “I will, I promise I will”.
On the bus he sipped the warm tea and ate the other sandwich from his bag. This had been a long day and as he put his head back, thinking it might be a long night.
The bus driver woke George up saying “this is your stop sir”. Shaking his head to wake up and climbing out of his seat, asked the driver, “Have you ever heard of JC’s salvage?
“Straight down that road and a little to the east. You’ll see the old radio antenna. Used to be an airport. It’s about twelve miles just outside of town. Tell em Hank the bus driver said hi. There’s a phone in the gas station if you want to call a taxi.”
George grabbed his bag and climbed down out of the bus to a pretty chilly night that he wasn’t dressed for. He had no intention of calling a cab, even if he had the money and the walk would warm him. By now it was ten o’clock at night and he felt like he was in good shape. Off he went in the direction of JC’s, just putting down one mile after the other. After a while his long day and little food started to ware on him. He felt himself slowing down and pretty soon he just wanted to stop. He staggered a bit on the dark road as a car drove by and blew their horn.
Hay, where you goin man. You crazy man? You gona get runed over man.
A voice from off by the woods as three rough looking young men approached him.
“I’m sorry but I don’t have much of anything George said”.
“Hay, it ain like that man, Rico, this man’s walkin in da streets man. Hes gona get runed over . We gots ta help him man.”
George told them he was just going down the road about eight or ten more miles but just needed to get a little rest and he would be all right.
They told him they had a place in the woods a ways and he was welcome to join them. They were just going down the road like him and stopped but figured it was best to be some where out of the way where people wouldn’t think they were trouble makers.
Against his better judgement, George followed them quite a way back into this thick wood. He was so cold and so tired he felt this was his only choice. Stopping after a little way, George pulled out the robe from his bag. It was easy to throw over himself and it made him much warmer. A little further on, they came to a clearing. A small fire burned and two other men sat there poking the fire and heating something on a rock.
“Hay you guys, we found this gringo trying to get get runed over on da road.” The other two fell to their knees and said “un sacerdote”. The three who had been in front of him when he put the robe on turned around and with wide open eyes, “lo lamentamos mucho, we did not know, lo lamentamos mucho padre”
Charley was puzzeled for just a minute and than, maybe because he was tired or maybe because it was the right time, started laughing, he laughed and laughed and when he could he explained to them where and how he received the robe, they all laughed some more. Even after the explanation they seemed to have a great deal of respect for him. They were making tortillas on the fire and offered a couple to George which he devoured quickly along with several gulps of warm coffee from a shared cup. They talked a bit and realizing he was tired, together they made him a place to sleep gathering and walking down some weeds. He was amazed at how handy they were and working together could accomplish so much.
He laid down is this weed cocoon they had made for him and was asleep in no time. When he awoke in the morning it must have been pretty late. He looked over and there was some kind of small animal roasting on a stick. When they realized he was awake they pushed the community cup to him with steaming coffee. Sitting up he grabbed the cup and it felt so good to feel the warmth in his hands. Sharp sticks were tearing off small strips of meet from the roasting animal and Charley was given a piece. He remembered him self many years before, sitting in a fancy restaurant drinking wine and eating prime rib. He thought that couldn’t have tasted near a good as this.
When breakfast was over, they cleaned up. He marveled how efficient they were and when they lift to walk out to the road one could hardly tell that anyone had been there.
One of the Mexicans had a bow over his shoulder and some arrows or at least sharp sticks tied up in long grass. When Charley inquired, he was told, desayuno, breakfast.
They were only on the road for a short time when a slow-moving van pulled in front of them. A middle-aged man jumped out and asked, with a laughing, giggling voice. Is one of you George? And more laughing. “Hi, I’m Tom Sparrow, when they called and told us you were coming, I had no idea you would be so easy to spot. That robe does you well, but you might want to take some of the weeds off of it. Makes you look like a woolly mammoth,” and he laughed some more. George didn’t want to leave his new-found friends but this was the time. No one plans these things but he had to go with this man who obviously was alerted to his coming.
“I hate to leave you guys and I sure wish, well what can I say. You guys probably saved my life”.
“We understand parting. You go and maybe someday. We are off to see Jesus Salver and he will take good care of us. He is a good man. Confiamos en Dios”
George jumped in the van and waved as they pulled away. It was hard to relax thinking of leaving his new friends. All of a sudden, a thought came. “Stop the van, stop the van.”
Tom was more than a little startled but pulled over.
“Would you please go back. I need to talk to my friends”.
As soon as Tom got back to where the five Mexicans were George jumped out. “Where did you say you were going” One of them pulled out a worn and wrinkled paper. It was a tattered business card and on it he could just make out JC’s Salvage. “JC’s Salvage he yelled” “Yes” Miguel said “Jesus Salvar”. “We are all going to the same place, George said, and if Tom won’t let us all in, we will walk the rest of the way.” There was a big group hug laughing and dancing, Tom saying he would make room no matter if someone had to ride on the roof.
In they piled, a little snug but inn. Tom got on his cell phone and called the office. “I’m bringing in Friar Tuck, Robin Hood, and a bunch of merry men. Do what you can to ready some showers and enough hot food for six men who are used to living in the woods. We don’t want them to ransack the castle”. With that he hung up and they all laughed.
When they pulled into JC’s some of the guests as well some employees were waiting. Cameras were snapping pictures and the group was more than glad to play out some pretty corny but laughable pictures.
All were brought in without formal introductions which was always left o the individuals. Quickly they became acclimated with the surroundings and became an iatrical part of JC’s.
Stories were told about their travels and all the miracles that contributed to their safe arrival at JC’s Salvage.
George found it easy to work toward getting the good part of his old life back. Prayer, hard work, and good friends to share with and work for.
Miguel and his friends found many things they could do around JC’s. John had heard from a friend at a shelter in San Antonio, about five young men who did landscaping around their shelter. Their shelter was very crowded and hoped maybe JC’s would have some work for them, until they could work into the community. John knew they would be a big help to JC’s fledgling landscaping business and so they were.
What’s in a Gift? #4
When George Lyle showed up at JC’s Salvage, he had a lot to think about. He had been a drinker and a user from the time he was in grade school. Managing to stay within most of society’s standards, he had made it all the way through college. He had found a great job and was well-liked. Always the life of the party, there was very little to slow down his desire for more of whatever it was going to take to make him happy. After a while and a number of warnings about his job, he just quit going to work, soon thereafter finding himself on the street. Being on the street, does not take very long to learn what it is going to take to survive. Survival means number one, supplying the addiction by using people or whatever means available. Food and shelter were secondary and those needs, were much easier to satisfy. Cardboard boxes, a warm doorway and maybe a shelter if there were not too many rules. Food was usually available from organizations intended for that purpose and if they weren’t, there were plenty of garbage dumpsters that were bound to have something still edible.
One day, after what to some might have appeared as a series of circumstances, George decided it was time to turn his life around if he could.
He had gone through withdrawals from alcohol and drugs. He had met a lot of new very helpful people and felt he needed to give a lot back. In fact, he knew by giving back he would gain a great deal. Sure, he would do his best, work hard and try to move up to a more responsible life but could he ever get close to where he once was? Along with That, how could he ever begin to pay back all those who had helped him? George knew he needed money, and that meant a decent job. He could depend on JC’s just so long and at some point, he needed to be paying them back. Paying them more than just his work and services.
JC’s taught him that giving back was easy. The hard part was having the faith to believe that you were doing some good. When we give, we like to be sure that our resources are being used well. The art of giving is working hard to find someone or some place that can be trusted to disperse our gift wisely. When we give, whether it’s a large amount of money, food, clothing, our time or just holding the door for someone, we will probably never know just how much good, we have passed along.
He stayed with JC’s for more than a year, doing what he could with his investment skills as well as a lot of manual labor. The two seemed to work together helping him heal and get stronger both physically as well as mentally. The office work came easy but the physical work was much harder and he loved watching himself get stronger.
He thought about calling his old boss. Mostly because the people at JC’s Insisted, he try to recover some of his past and do his best to mend bridges. Talking it over with staff, they suggested he not call but go and visit. The idea of “a picture is worth a thousand words”. They might be glad to hear that he was recovering, but would they believe it? Face-to-face was the only thing to do.
So, it was. Off he went with a little money he had earned at JC’s and saved with JC’s blessings. “We are always here for you” they told him. “Don’t forget that and don’t forget us”.
George’s old workplace was about 200 miles from JC’s. He had chosen a day when a delivery truck to JC’s would be going back that way. Four hours on the truck and a short taxi ride put him at the front door of his old workplace. Nervous and feeling like he wanted to run, George Lyle just stood there. Soon an unfamiliar face came by and asked if he was going in or if he was going to buy the place. A bit of a chuckle and George followed this young lady in. Walking to the familiar elevator taking in all the sites some new, some old, and all of the time, wondering what on earth he was doing here.
He thought about all the things he’d been through and all the people who had helped him. He could not let them down, and he had to do this. He wasn’t expecting these people to welcome him back with open arms or for that matter, want much of anything to do with him. He had more or less left them to find someone to fill the rather important job and had left them without a word. He was hoping that at the very least he could get a bit of a letter to use as an introductory letter for some other job somewhere. They wouldn’t have to praise him or say all kinds of great things about him, even if they were true but basically answer to the work that he had done and the fact that he had been there for a number of years.
The elevator doors opened up on the third floor much quicker than he had remembered. It was all coming back more and more clearly over time. Straight to his old boss’s office he walked. Knocked on the door and walked in.
“Can I help you” came a voice buried in paperwork? George just stood there saying nothing and slowly his former boss Todd raised his head saying “can I”, and stopping halfway, just stared.
“Oh my God; George Lyle, where in the world have you been and what are you doing here? Everyone thought you were; well never mind. Everyone will be surprised. What are you doing now?”
Slowly George said yes, I am alive and in a lot of ways I’m doing very well. I have a lot to tell you and if you are really interested, maybe sometime we could go for a coffee when you’re not so busy.
Todd reached around and grabbed his suit coat off the hangar and said, “you appear all of a sudden, I have absolutely nothing to do for the next two hours and our coffee shop is just waiting for us, I just know this is going to be good”.
Off they went to the coffee shop passing a few staring, half waving, people George had once known. They ordered coffee and rolls and found a quiet corner. His former boss seemed to be smart enough to know that this was a time to listen and not a time for a lot of questions. Often times the questions are answered with the listening and making for a lot less questions.
George just sat there staring for a minute and then saying, “it was very hard for me to come here,” and “I want to thank you for being willing to hear what I have to say.” Todd sipped his coffee and just nodded. Again, George started in right from the beginning, how he became more and more addicted from the time he was a child and how he had eventually wound up on the street. How and why he wound up in South Carolina and all the miracles and wonderful people that brought him back here and had contributed to him cleaning up. He talked about how easy it was to get drugs and alcohol and how he had suckered so many people into giving him things that he could sell for more drugs and alcohol. He talked about getting food out of garbage dumpsters and drinking whiskey from half bottles that he would find. He talked about all the people that he had taken advantage of and a young lady living in the shack who was willing to give more than what she had. He told about the rides that he was given no questions asked. He told about the grocery store and how he was rewarded for just helping unload the truck. Told about living back in the woods where no one would find him while he went through withdrawals. He told about the priest that he met and how he had allowed him to stay there at a time when he needed it so bad. He told Todd about JC’s and the way their program worked and how much help they had been.
Todd just sat there saying nothing as if he was spellbound. Even when George told him about his escapades in the woods with the Mexican men, meant to make him laugh, Todd didn’t even smile.
Finally, George was through, sitting there wondering if he had said way too much. After a few minutes of terrifying quiet Todd got up. Stay right there and do not move a muscle. I have a few things to get together that are yours and I will be back.
A lady came by with a lunch tray and on it some mixed fruit and crackers and another coffee. You may not know it she said but you ordered this. A little laugh a smile and she was gone.
George sat there picking at the morsels and thinking he should run out of this place. Anything of his, that was left here was just more flotsam and jetsam that he did not have a place to store anyway. How many envelopes of his legal rights did he need?
After a little more than a half an hour, Todd came back with a folder and sat down.
George started in. “I was just hoping, well maybe I could get just a bit of a letter.”
“Stop right there,” Todd broke in; and George knew he was crazy for even trying.
“George Lyle,” Todd said, “if even part of your story is true, you have a place right here and in fact a number of places for you to choose from. Your story impacted me so hard, I had to go into the John and wipe my eyes for at least 20 minutes. Every day we suffer some kind of a loss because of addictions. If not one of our own employees, a relation or friend of one of our employees. You could do a lot for us by not only sharing your story but encouraging our employees and letting them know that help is out there. Things have changed in the time you have been gone but if your skills are anywhere close to where they were when you left, I don’t think it would take you very long to catch up. I’m not saying you’re going to be able to just walk in here and be right where you were when you left. You left a big hole and we can’t afford to have that happen too many times. We will take you back on a trial basis. In 30 days, in 90 days and in six months there will be certain goals that we will expect you to achieve. If that works out and if you agree with this you have a job.”
George couldn’t believe what he was hearing. All choked up he managed to spit out, “as soon as I can, well of course, well how soon, will tomorrow, I need to find.”
Once again Todd chimed in; “Sean, over in marketing has a basement apartment for rent right now and it is only two blocks away. You can rent that for a week at a time or until you find something better. There is no reason that I can’t take you over to meet him right now and while I’m at it, introduce you to the rest of the staff. You did a great job when you were here before and they will be glad to hear you’re back. You don’t have to share your reasons for being gone but I think you’ll find that problem is more common today than we care to admit.”
“Before you leave, we need to go over this file. We tried very hard to find you but you had seemed to just drop off the face of the earth. Anyway, from the very first day you started working here back in college through your payroll deduction, you allowed us to invest some of your money. That money hasn’t just been sitting here waiting for you to come back. It has done quite well for you in spite of a recession.” He handed George the file opening it and pointing to some of the figures. George looked at the figures and looked at Todd. “Yes” Todd said, “that’s correct, I told you, your investment did well for you. You could go quite a number of years without going to work with this amount of money but we hope you don’t and we want you to come work with us.”
The rest of the day George felt like a six-year-old child at the circus for the first time. He met old friends and made new friends, he laughed and cried, talked about plans and things he must do, told what he could about his experiences and he met Sean. George talked about the apartment with Sean, they agreed on the price and the rules, later walking home with Sean and meeting his family.
Sean’s wife Emily said, “Sean called me earlier and told me he was bringing home a friend with him who might be staying with us for a while. I have arranged another place at the dinner table. Dinner will be in an hour and you are welcome to freshen up. I think you’ll find what you need in your shower downstairs and if there’s anything else please let me know.”
George went down into the basement and found it a lot more than what he anticipated. It was finished well, not real fancy but space was used efficiently. There was a bedroom, large enough for a double bed and a lamp table with a lamp, reasonable bathroom with a shower, a small kitchenette with apartment size appliances, the front room with a small library and a walkout to a lower backyard and enclosed solarium, complete with a small wood stove. Part of the basement was unfinished but had some shelves that he might use for storage.
Emily had left some sweats of Sean’s with a note for George to use them. In and out of the shower and some of Sean’s slippers, George was ready to go. “Come and get it” Emily hollered from the top of the stairs, “We’re ready if you are”. George could hardly fight back tears while they were saying grace and when the three children asked, George just said, “I’ve got so much happy in me, that it’s bubbling over.”
After dinner George asked to use the phone. He called JC’s salvage, advising the person on duty of his situation and asking them to pass it on the next day. “Please tell everybody that I am doing much better than I could’ve ever have dreamed. It is all a miracle, and I will get back with them with more information as soon as I can.”
The children soon became infatuated with George and he loved them but they had been cautioned to let George have his own private time.
On his lunch hour, George arranged to use a small portion of his investments to open a bank account in the nearby bank. He was given a credit card he could use at the ATM machine and use Sean’s address for a contact place.
George had no trouble completing his 30-day expectations and pretty well completed his six-month expectations at the same time. The company was very happy with George and Todd told him more than once that he had personally gained from bringing George back.
He used his time wisely, studying manuals and various reports to bring himself up to speed, studying on his lunch hour and at home.
George appreciated his job and wanted to do everything he could to let them know that he appreciated it. Along with a cell phone, expense account and a few other things, they had given George a laptop computer. On many days George would merely work from home and probably gave them more hours than they expected.
Though by now he could well afford a fancy apartment, he was more than satisfied with his basement apartment and Sean and Emily appreciated the extra income. The second washer and dryer were put in the unfinished part of the basement and George insisted on paying a little more, to cover the cost of the utilities.
Through all of his travels he had managed to hang on to his journal. Its original intention had been to impress the people when he was panhandling so that they might think he really cared about them and was taking their phone number or address to pay them back. Now he was ashamed of what he had done and his reasons for having it but he was glad to have it so that he might connect with some of these same people.
He put together a letter.
Some time back our paths crossed. I lead you to believe that I was poor and homeless and needed help and you responded by helping me in a way you thought would make my life better. The truth is I used whatever I could get to trade for what I needed for my addictions. The dollars you invested in me I traded for pennies worth of drugs and alcohol. For that I am attempting to apologize. I am willing to pay back with interest whatever you invested, be it money or a pair of socks.
I have come a long way back and closer to what society recognizes as a responsible person. I am doing well and I want to share more than anything my story and be able to inform people like yourself how they can really help. Giving clothes, money, food, to someone coming along who appears needy, all too often works in reverse. Anything given should be done in a way and to a place that is trusted and the gift can be dispersed so that its value can be appreciated fully.
These are critical times. Homelessness as we often call it, is at an extremely high level. Taxes, federal funding, generous organizations, churches, groups and individuals, are spending many millions of dollars, putting together shelters, apartments, soup kitchens and lunch counters, clothing collections and so much more. Is it really doing any good in your area? People are dying, some refusing a place to live when offered, some taking gifts and a place to stay but not having the means or the know-how to keep it or use it properly.
As a survivor I would love to share my story about what works and what does not work. Yes, we badly need caring people like yourself but the care needs to be funneled to where it can do the most good and you can feel the good results.
George sent out many letters, not only to people that had helped him along the way but to churches and organizations around the country. One day the church he was attending asked him if he would speak to their congregation. He was surprised at the response he received. It was uncomfortable for him to speak at first but he found that just telling things that he had experienced in the way they were, was what people wanted to hear. He told them, how clever he was, at lying and how he would try and keep himself clean and neat and that seemed to give him an edge. He told them some of the stories, he had made up about being hurt in the war, about losing his family in a tragic fire, about his family being in a terrible car crash with him looking on, about his sister and brother being hit by a train, and many other stories he had made up.
After he spoke, they naturally wanted to know where they should donate or how they should donate.
He told them about JC’s and although it might’ve appeared a rather crude operation, was in fact quite extensive and had accomplished much. JC’s is not only allowing everybody to come in but goes out and looks for the needy and the poor and asks them to come in. They do everything they can to show them a clean, honest, responsible environment and only ask them to leave when they feel the person or persons are able to make it on their own. Some of the time, the guests give back as much as they have taken away and more. He talked about Father Matthew and the difficulties that he was encountering with his prison ministry. He told them of the few other organizations that he had heard about but continued to emphasize that the giver needed to do their homework. “If you find the right place to give, you will get a lot more back. This is an investment in society and those of you who understand investing will do your best to get the best return”.
After about a year, George asked his boss if he could take a road trip. He had gotten a new driver’s license and bought a decent car, he could work from wherever he was with his laptop, and there were various clients around the country that like to see a human face once in a while. It was easily arranged and off he went.
One of the first places he wanted to go was back to that little shack of a house where the lady lived who had given him the sandwiches and the iced tea. Getting to the town that he had been in before heading that way, was easy. Finding the road was not so easy. Some of the gravel roads had been paved by now. More buildings had been built in various places but after a while by driving a few miles down each one he gradually came on the cabin. Pulling up in front, the place looked even worse than it had and in fact it looked more deserted. As he went up to the door and knocked his heart sunk. Scraps of paper lay scattered on the porch and the mailbox was full of what appeared to be advertisements. He tried the door and it was open. Not a soul around and nothing moving anywhere in sight so, why not go in. He poked around inside and it was obvious that whoever had been here, moved out leaving most of what had been there, as there was nothing really worth taking with them. He found a newspaper that some animal had been chewing up for a nest and a pencil circle around an address in the want ads. Grabbing what was left of the paper he went back out to his car. The phone number was still legible and he called it. A female voice coming on the line, “can I help you”.
Now George’s thinking, “how do I do this? What can I possibly say that she will listen to? ma’am, my name is George and I’m inquiring about someone who helped me out a great deal quite some time ago. I have very little information to go on and all I can tell you, she lived in a kind of a small rough house in the country” giving her the name of the street. I believe she had at least two children.”
“Well guess what, you have called the right place, I have no idea where she is or how to get a hold of her right now but it has to be the same lady, we hired quite some time back. Obviously if I did have more information, I really couldn’t give it to you because that would be private. I’ll tell you what I will do. Is there any more information you can give me?”
George thought and out loud he said,” I don’t know, not much, I was only there just a few minutes, she gave me iced tea, she made me some sandwiches, she rushed me out because her kids were coming home from school and didn’t think it would look very good to them or the bus driver, and that’s about it. Oh, one other thing, I left an old wallet on her porch but it was dark by then and she might not know that I left it.”
The lady on the other end of the line said if anything came up or she heard from this person she would tell them what George had said and pass along whatever information he wanted to give her.
George gave her his cell phone number and his email address and asked if it would be all right if he called back in a few days to see if there had been any response. The lady said that would be fine and hung up.
From their George traveled on to the supermarket where he had helped unload the truck. Found the owner, manager, Fred, fortunately at a slow time in the store and sat and talked with him for over an hour. Told him some of his story and told him how the hard work he had done, contributed so much, not only to his sobriety but to moving into a much better life. He asked Fred if the town had ever gotten another forklift.
“No,” Fred said, “but one of these days. The one we got is still reliable and lots of parts are available. I suppose there will always be parts available, but it seems to break down on days when somebody needs it pretty bad. We chip in and help each other out so it’s okay.”
George asked Fred if there was a hotel or a place to stay in town and Fred told him about a room over the top of the hardware store. “It’s not used very often and I can’t even tell you when the last time it was used, but I know it’s clean and Dennis will rent it to you pretty cheap.”
“Do you deliver?” George asked, “Yes of course I deliver in fact I remember delivering some groceries for you. I think I still owe you money for working that hard.”
Once more George said, “I think you and I have a little more to talk about. Can you tell your wife you will be just a little late and if she would, put together a couple of those great deli sandwiches with a thermos of hot coffee when you close tonight? If you will, just bring them up to my room. I’ll be waiting.”
Fred just said, “you are one strange fella but I’ll call the wife and if she hasn’t got some other chore for me, I’ll be there. Look for me about 7:15.”
At almost 7:15 on the button, there was a knock on the door. “Come on in Fred.” George had borrowed a large card table from store owner Dennis and when Fred came in, George and Dennis were sitting at the table looking over George’s laptop. “Here’s your dinner with a little more than what you asked for and might I ask, what you two hombres are up to?”
Well, Dennis and I got talking about your forklift problem and Dennis has been sitting here showing me the good’s and the band’s about forklifts and a little more than I thought I ever needed to know.
“Right there, that one you got on the screen right now, that’s a Butte,” Dennis said. Fred said, “Dennis is an even a bigger dreamer then I am but I guess it don’t hurt to dream. One of these days we’ll get us a new forklift. It sure won’t be that Cadillac but it’ll serve our purposes right well.”
“You mean to say that one’s not good enough for you?” George asked.
Not good enough? Fred said, “that’s way too good for this town, but what are we talking about anyway and just exactly what was it, you wanted me to come up here for.”
Well George said, “if I could’ve done this without your knowledge, I would’ve preferred to do it that way but because I don’t know anything about this kind of stuff, I’m going to buy you a forklift and I need your input”
“Well you can’t just, where you, no, no, no, no, what are you and Dennis hooking up here?”
Dennis sat there wide-eyed and looking at Fred, finally saying, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
“Unless you can give me a good reason not to, I’m ordering
this forklift tomorrow morning. I will give them both of your phone numbers and
you will arrange where it is to be delivered and I suggest you put pressure on
them anyway you can, to get it here as soon as possible. I will pay for it over
the phone with a credit card with the stipulation that the card does not pay
off until you see the forklift. That should put a little rush on it. There is
no doubt in my mind that you will be getting a call from them shortly after I
call them. I know right now you’re trying to figure out if this is some kind of
a scam and you probably won’t get any sleep tonight wondering. All I can say is
you two guys need to get the heck out of here so I can get some work done. Get
some rest and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Dennis and Fred could hardly say a word. On one hand, they should be thrilled to death to be receiving such a large gift but on the other hand there was just no way that they could justify this expensive gift if it really???.
Off they went closing the door behind them and George went right back to work. In a little while he ate one of the sandwiches that Fred had brought him, had a little coffee and found himself nodding off. Took his Bible out and managed to get through about a half-hour but then he lay down on the bed and went right to sleep.
Morning came and it was a little later than George had planned. He grabbed the thermos of coffee that was still at least warm. Poured himself a cup, checking the time again. As soon as 8 o’clock rolled around he called the forklift company, insisting on talking to the owner. He explained the situation telling him of the company he worked for and in fact telling him about JC’s salvage and how they had a couple of forklifts that may need to be replaced one day.
The owner just said we don’t get a chance to do Christmas this time a year but I think you’ve convinced me to follow up on this. If that credit card is real and it’s got enough on it to cover this machine, this’ll be the fastest delivery we ever made. These are the kind of things that make good advertising for us, so I hope everything you are telling me is true. Tell me the phone number one more time, and the address of the place where it’s going.
George gave him all the information he could, along with his own cell phone number in case there were any problems.
Jumping in the shower he felt pretty good. A quick shower, clean clothes, grabbed his laptop and his small bag and was out the back door to his car. Out on the front street he heard some banging. It almost sounded like a shootout and he thought he’d seen a flare go over the top of the building.
George pulled around from the back the building and slowly up to the main street and here was the grocery store owner Fred and hardware store owner Dennis lighting all kinds of fireworks, people gradually coming from everywhere to see what all the fuss was this early in the morning. When they seen George pull out, they hollered at him and he rolled down his window.
“George, we just got the call, there bringing it as soon as they can. It should be here by tomorrow night. We can’t thank you enough. Dennis brought all his old fireworks over so the whole town can celebrate. We are going to remember you George.”
He just waved and gradually drove out of town trying not to hit any of the pedestrians that seem to be coming from everywhere. He wouldn’t be buying large gifts like that every day for people but it sure felt good to know he had done something that was going to profit so many people.
A little further down the road and about 15 minutes later, George received a call on his cell phone. “Mr. Lyle, we want you to know that we appreciate this opportunity not only to make the sale but to serve these people who obviously need this piece of machinery. If you don’t mind, we are going to use this story in an advertisement and I expect you want your name kept out of it. You mentioned this JC’s salvage place and we already have an associate looking into it. If their story is as warm and solid as yours, we will be making a large donation there this year. Please do not hesitate to call us if there’s anything else we can do.”
From there he drove on down to see father Mathew. “George, it is so great to see you. I have so much to tell you and so many things I want to ask you about your travels. First of all, thank you for writing all the letters and getting all the people to petition the warden and the governor to work out a little better program for my present ministry. With a little encouragement they started to recognize its value and how it would help them keep better control. I hope you can stay for at least a couple days because we are having a special speaker.” “And just who is the special speaker” George asked. Father Matt chuckled, “you are the special speaker. When I heard you might be coming this way someday, I realized that there would be nobody better than you to speak to our volunteers. We have people stay in the old gymnasium on cold nights and we have volunteers to help out. We all know that is not the best situation and are looking for something better and I think a talk from you would be a great help.”
“That is not what I came for and I had not given that the glimmer of a thought but that it is exactly what I would like to do. There is so much need and we are only beginning to understand how we are going to deal with the problem.”
George stayed for four days, communicating with his work at home, taking care of what he needed to take care of online visiting a client in the area and giving his talks. On the fourth day, he was in the garden trying to decide whether he should stay for a few more days in this most comfortable setting that allowed him to get a lot of his work done. His cell phone rang and a female voice asked,
“is this Mr. George?”
“Yes, ma’am I’m George, what can I do for you?”
“Oh, Mr. George, how long I have wanted to talk to you. I am the lady that lived in the little house and gave you a couple of sandwiches. How are you doing are you all right?”
George was a little startled and said, “I am doing quite well, how are you, I hope you’re doing well.”
“Mr. George I can’t begin to tell you how well I’m doing. Is there any way that you can come and see me or I can come and see you? I will travel anywhere.”
A bit taken back, George said slowly, “a, a, a, sure, I can probably come and see you one of these days. Do you have an address?”
She gave him her address and phone number, telling him that it would be just too difficult to explain all over the phone. She would look forward to seeing him and would appreciate a call an hour or so before he got there. She would like her three children to be there when he came.
He hung around for one more night but was kind of anxious to find out just how this run-down cabin lady was doing. Had she run into somebody who had made promises but was just using her? Was she on drugs or some other addiction? He would know soon enough and like too often, maybe is this case, not be able to do anything about it.
Saying goodbye to father Matthew, after agreeing to more future talks, he drove back north a little sad. Always difficult to leave good friends and hoping to make more new ones.
The address she had given him was nowhere near the address in the newspaper want ads, he had seen in her cabin. This address was more than 200 miles from where he had called. As it turned out it was North in the direction he needed to go toward where he was living. Also, he was able to visit a couple more clients on the way. After two more hotel room stops, he came to the town she was living in. Called her on his cell phone from a coffee shop he found. Giving her the name and address of the coffee shop, she said yes, I know the place but I would rather you came to where I’m living. The children will be out of school in about a half-hour and if you wouldn’t mind waiting that long, I am very anxious to talk to you.
He waited more than half hour and gradually found his way to the address she had given him. He found himself in front of a long, long driveway going up to a huge estate but there was no question about the address. Still apprehensive he slowly drove up the driveway to a door that was swinging wide open. Two children ran out asking if he was Mr. George.
“Mom and Kenny Are waiting inside and said for you to follow us right in.” Across the walk and up a flight of stairs across a large porch and in. There stood the young lady, woman he had met in the cabin, or at least, somebody that looked like her. She was dressed far better than the woman he had seen in the cabin. Her hair and everything about her look like a lady of class. Upper-class. Also, in the room was an older lady and gentleman looking pretty classy themselves.
There was a small dog romping, the three children nervously moving around, and then the moment was interrupted with the older gentleman saying, “I would like to introduce you to everyone.”
Introductions were made round and soon the story started.
The young lady Janet Walters had found the wallet that day when her kids came home from school. She had just stepped out on the porch and there it lay. She ran out to the bus driver telling her that she had found a wallet, going through it, found an address and asked the bus driver if she wouldn’t contact the address. Not thinking much about it the bus driver sent a note off to the address and that the wallet had been found and where it was. In the meantime, Janet had answered a add in the newspaper, telling of a job that needed a cleaning lady. It meant taking the children out of school and moving them to another area but it paid well and the place where she was to be a cleaning lady, had a small apartment that they could use until she found something better.
It’d taken a while for the owners of the wallet to be contacted and to find out where Janet had moved. When they found her, they were fascinated by her situation. They always were looking for a family that they could help and although the people where Janet was doing housecleaning were not very anxious to let her go, bragged her up and knew that she would be better off with someone who could help her more than they could.
Her new friends had arranged for the children’s schooling, transportation, and more than enough field trips. They had put Janet to work cleaning their house but limited her to one day a week. The rest of the week was for her schooling and she was already quite handy on her new computer. Saturday and Sunday were days off and she would spend that time with the children, sometimes taking little trips with her new family.
Mr. and Mrs. Richards said that the Walter’s family had given them a whole new life. Mrs. Richards jumped in asking why George didn’t keep the money that was in the wallet? Did he have any idea how much money was in it? “There was enough to make somebody happy for several days”, she said. More importantly to her, there were so many important papers and phone numbers, in the wallet and a lot of things that could have caused them trouble trying to replace credit cards, bank cards and so on. Mr. Richards chimed in again. “You may think you did just a little thing by putting that wallet there but that started a beautiful pin ball rolling and it is still rolling, ringing bells and sending out rewards.”
George appreciated the complement and of course thanked him but he couldn’t help but think about all the people that were not as fortunate as he was. Mental illness, drug or alcohol addictions, or just plain poor and not having the ability to begin to move up. How could he ever tell people what it was like? How could he ever explain to them, that it wasn’t money or gifts but simple touches of kindness, thoughtful kindness, that had helped him begin to move up. If people could only know that they were cared for they could start to learn how to make it on their own. “How did that go?
“But the greatest of these is,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.”
There seems to be a kind of notion, that putting up a building or finding one and allowing what we are calling homeless stay there for a few hours, solves a problem.
Know before I go too far, and for those who will want to challenge what I have to say, I can only say don’t waste your time. If you really care, come up with something better and move on it. Put your name on it, take credit for it, get your picture in the paper but by all means do something more than what is being done presently in far too many places.
Shelters and subsidized housing are great ideas, but then what?
Poor and homeless need training. Weather they are invited, coaxed, coerce, tricked or just taught by example, they most often need training. Training to make a bed, training to have some kind of order, training to listen and at the same time showed the value of these things.
If you lost a pet, would you be content to know it was given some food and a nice place to sleep and nothing more? Would you hope someone was giving it some attention? If you happen to care about animals, would you build a nice house for a stray and tell all that you had solved a problem.
The reconstruction of Chad Taylor #5
Hurt in a construction accident, Chad Taylor had been living at home for a couple of years. After some time, he was receiving a disability, and because of his bad back he could do nothing, or so it was said.
At times, someone would see Chad, lifting or moving around with a project he wanted to do but that was rare. What they weren’t saying and everyone knew, Chad was a drunk.
As all so often the story is, although he denied it, Chad knew exactly where he was and how much of a burden, he was to his family even though he never told them. He hated himself, he hated the drink, he hated being on a disability and he hated the fact that he couldn’t tell anyone just how he felt. Secretly he knew he was capable of some kind of work but something, just something seemed to be keeping him captive.
How many times had he told himself he was going to change, he was going to seek help but then something just got in the way? He still had friends in the bars or at the party stores, who were more than happy to leave him with the impression he was doing the best he could and with his accident and all, “so what if he had a drink once in a while”. He deserved at least that much out of life.
Alcoholics Anonymous was using a room at JC’s and one day, Chad was invited to a meeting that happened to be at JC’s and after several more invites he attended one. It wasn’t the first meeting or maybe not the next two or three but eventually it stuck. He started attending more often and not only listening to but being around others who had been in the same boat as he was, well it was hard to ignore so many of the things he had been ignoring. Now he remembers his last day of taking a drink. Chad remembers Fred Holzer inviting him to a meeting just like he himself, invites people now.
It all took time, Chad didn’t find detox and the withdrawals easy but with family support and seeing the relief it brought to them helped to make it work. He admits, had he been by himself, he could never have done it.
Someone, at one of his earlier meetings, had told him that JC’s had a little work some times and at the very least he could do some volunteer work there, be around healthy people, some of whom had been in his shoes one day. It would also give his family a break, knowing Chad was doing something positive.
Chad wasn’t paid in cash but was given help to manage his disability income. His family was invited to check out their donated clothing and other things. They were allowed to eat for free at JC’s and because by now, finances had become a real burden they were advised, and helped through the many services available to them.
When a new person came to JC’s even for a visit, they would be asked their name. Naturally not everyone gave their correct name. Maybe some had a good reason or maybe they were just a little suspicious. The idea was to have some idea of who, when, how many and how often. An inner gate was always locked and the person coming or going would show their JC’s ID and were allowed to pass day or night. How much Information they wanted to give was up to the individual and usually after staying there for a while most people would be glad to give as much as they could as it would not only help JC’S but also help the individual move forward a little easier. Things like getting a job, a disability, finding their own place to live, receiving mail, keeping track of medical information and appointments, meeting others they knew, and anything else that might help were all addressed.
Even though he went home every night, Chad had been encouraged to give his family information about what went on at JC’s. By now, the center knew that a spouse of an alcoholic would need as much care as the alcoholic. Chad’s three children were out of the house in the day time during the school year and it allowed the center to offer his wife, Dian Taylor, work. They would offer her work for five days, four hours each day, giving her ample time to be with her family and doing what she needed to do at home. It wouldn’t be a lot of money but the important thing is, it would be hers, to do with as she felt she should and she would be around others who had been through what she was going through and they could give her positive support.
Diane started out at JC’s center doing laundry, cleaning or most anything they asked. In less than two weeks she was doing some of the bookkeeping. There was always some kind of work at JC’s. The more you organized the easier it was to get things done. If for some reason something more important came along, well you just put off the organizing. She enjoyed the variety and it was easy to see, she understood what fast and efficient meant.
It didn’t take long for Frans to notice her either, and ask if she would come to work for him in his restaurant. The same hours with less pay but Frans felt with tips she could do much better. She would be given a couple of weeks to see if it would work for her. JC’s hated to let her go but that was the way it was supposed to work. JC’s would give them a start and others would take over.
The next day, Dian Taylor came in to Frans’s Restraint, thirty-five minutes early and started in like a ball of fire. It was as though she had worked there for years and had no trouble getting along well with the customers. She would have a cleaning rag in her hand one minute and the next bringing coffee to someone. A pad of paper laid next to the cash register that she would write on and next to it, a jar with her tips. After about three hours there was a lull in the customer traffic and Frans called her over to one of the tables.
Nervously, she sat down at his urging. “Number one,” Frans said, “you don’t start working thirty minutes before your shift. Today you will go home thirty minutes early.” He went on, “I suppose it would be silly of me to ask you if you ever worked in a restaurant before.” Before she could answer, “I know this is your first day here, but some things just won’t wait. Do you feel you are being paid well enough?”
“Yes, I have worked in a restaurant as well as several other places. I am so glad to have a job and one that allows me to be with my family when I need to. The pay is more than a lot of others pay and with my part of the tips It is more than I was making at JC’s.”
“Your part of the tips?” Frans stammered, “what are you talking about? Any tips you make are yours and I expect you will do pretty well. Kyle told me you were doing some book keeping for them and that is another area I could use help in. For now, just keep doing what you are doing but that doesn’t mean coming in earlier than you are signed up for. Already the staff likes you and the customers seem to notice your good attitude. I think you are going to be a great addition to my staff. Remember, work together, learn together. Right now, if you would. Take care of that customer coming in the back door. He’s the owner of that large auto parts factory down the road and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if he bragged up our place to all his employees.”
It took a little more than a year for Chad and his family to stabilize and it was a celebration day, when he was able to go into the disability office and say, “thank you for helping me get through a rough time, and he no longer needed the service.”
Chad had been a welder and rigger, working around the country installing large equipment. He didn’t feel it was the best idea for him to get right back into that life style. Being on the road, made it even easier to be around drugs and alcohol. When he started volunteering at JC’s it was easy to see how useful he could be. He had been installing machinery and now he was taking some out as well as dismantling many for the scrap yard. He had the right moves, knew machines, and knew something about avoiding the pitfalls of this kind of work. He loved JC’s and they loved him.
After working for and with JC’s for a few years, he would hear grumbling from some of the contractors who were in the business of machine removal and demolition. Because of the support he was getting from JC’s he was taking a lot of their work.
Talking it over with JC’S staff, they came to the conclusion, he should go out on his own, start his own company. They would loan him tools and a vehicle for a small charge and he would work toward getting on his own. The scrap and salvage work were how it all started here at JC’s. John and Kyle were getting to the point of not being able to satisfy all the salvage work, they had to do so they decided to turn some of their work over to Chad.
When one slides backwards through addiction, the undoing is usually a lot faster than the rebuilding. Like the machinery, taking apart was faster than putting the same together.
Credit stops quickly as the person loses a job, over writes a check or just quits paying bills. Even JC’s could not afford to be giving credit. They of course wanted the best for Chad Taylor but this was something he had to work out himself. It was enough for them to help him out as much as they did. Giving him money was something they avoided with all the guests. By now Chad understood that and was happy to know he would one day, have the chance to pay not only for the loan of the truck but give back for all they had done.
Not only a person’s financial state was in ruin but also their home, house, relationships with neighbors, family, friends and everything they had touched was a mess.
Dealing with so many things, plus needing to feel humble and tolerant as he was being treated less than other people. He would hear comments whispered from extended family, neighbors, local business people, “How long is it going to last this time? This is just a temporary thing. I’ve seen it before; he’ll always be a drunk. He’s just doing this so people will feel sorry for him and give him more money so he can drink.”
Chad’s immediate family was there for him and that was a blessing. Dealing with all his problems had caused a lot of pain for the whole family. Still, his wife’s income was a big help to his starting out on his own and she was more than willing to help.
Fortunately, this is what JC’s salvage was all about. Time and time again they had seen people in the same position and they were there for a kind of safe place where people were positive, encouraging, and happy. Some days, before going home, Chad would come to JC’s after a long day of machine repair or demo and take a shower. Then he would have a cup of coffee and find a needy person to talk with or help out in some way. He found out that helping out was something he needed more than the person or persons he was trying to help. He could meet his family there, sometimes the whole family working in JC’s kitchen, serving guests and sharing a kind word.
One day, one of Chad’s old workers was in town and called at Chad’s house. Chad’s wife Diane was there and told Mike Murphy that he would be able to catch up with Chad at JC’s place. Giving him the address and not much more, she sent him on his way. Chad was just pulling in with a load of old machinery on the back of his truck when Mike showed up. Surprised to see him, Chad parked the truck, jumped out and shook Mike’s hand.
Mike started, “Were doing a job in town and when the rest of the crew show up, we will be here for a while. I figured I’d look you up. Let’s go and get a beer ol buddy before I dry up”
Chad looked at him smiling and said, “You may not believe this, coming from a guy who drank the most with the best, but I don’t drink anymore.”
Mike just stood there looking and kind of smirking, “I’m not sure whether or not to believe you. You do look a lot better and you even sound a lot brighter, but if it’s true, am I going to have to listen to some righteous, seen the light speech?”
“No” Chad said “You never listened to anything I said anyway.”
They both laughed and Chad offered Coffee for a substitute.
“Coffee is for breakfast and I don’t usually touch the stuff after eight AM. You sure it’s legal to drink coffee this time of day?”
Chad coaxed him to Frans restaurant and over coffee and cinnamon rolls they rekindled the old friendship.
Chad didn’t say a lot about his sobriety and Mike didn’t ask too many questions about it. Mostly they talked about the machines they were removing, new tools and methods, safety equipment and rules. They talked about how great it was to see each other again.
Chad told Mike a little about JC’s and among other things, it was a place for those needing a temporary home. I believe we have enough empty beds and when the rest get here you guys can bunk here. There is no drinking or smoking on the property, and all that is required is if you come in drunk you don’t bother anyone else. There is some kind of food available around the clock. This restaurant is open at six thirty in the morning. You’ll pay the menu prices at Frans’s place here but nothing at JC’s. Of course, they would be glad if you left a donation of some sort but it’s not required.
Chad insisted Mike stay at his house at least this first night.
“You already know where I live and the front light will be on. Just come in and find your way around. I will leave a note but I don’t think you will need it. We have a guest bedroom on the first floor and the bathroom is just around the corner. No smoking in the house. We will leave a couple of other lights on so please turn them off when you are ready for bed.”
“You seem to have all of this figured.” Mike said “How do you know I won’t be there before you go to bed?”
Chad just looked at him and they both had a good laugh.
Chad and Diane were always up by six am and around six thirty they heard Mike, showering in the bathroom. He came out not saying a lot as Chad pushed a cup of coffee in front of him.
“I figured you had to be out early and check the job before the boys showed up so Diane made a couple of sausage and egg sandwiches for you to take with you to eat when you had time. I got you a thermos of coffee for later.”
Mike grabbed the bag of sandwiches and the thermos of coffee, thanked them and was gone in minutes.
After he left, Chad and Diane hugged each other, knowing they had done the best they could for someone suffering a hangover.
A few days went by and nothing was heard from Mike or his crew. Chad had left word with the night volunteer people and gave instructions, should they show up. On the fourth night they showed up. Chad would find out the next morning that they had shown up around midnight quite drunk but quiet. Chad had shown Mike the arrangement and the rooms, the showers and the toilets, smoking outside. They were escorted to two dorm type rooms, three beds in one and four in another.
Chad received a call early the next morning and he instructed the caller to see that they were offered breakfast and pack some coffee in a couple of the old donated thermoses.
Several days went by before Chad would see Mike or his crew again. One day about two in the afternoon, here they come. Three pickups and a larger truck with torch and welding equipment.
When Mike seen Chad, he explained that the trucker who was supposed to haul away a piece of equipment was delayed and they couldn’t do any more that day.
Chad knew three of the men and the other three were new to him. Introductions were made all around and finding a place to sit, they drank coffee, telling stories of travels and troubles.
One of the guests came up looking for two people to play euchre, shortly after another needed a partner to play corn hole. Mike and his crew were soon comfortable with the people here and Chad found it easy to leave them to their own entertainment.
They would be on the job in town, for six weeks and Chad would see them at JC’s often but keeping up with his own work kept him away too. Often, he would see one or two trucks at the shelter. He heard stories of things they had fixed or projects they had helped with. One day when he passed by the kitchen, he seen one of the men washing dishes. He couldn’t believe it. If only he had a camera.
On weekends they would show up early in the morning, having breakfast and interacting with all who were at JC’s. They got to meet many of the volunteers, John, Kyle and their families and their children,
There would be reports of them coming in some nights, drunk but never of any problems.
The six weeks were over and they were gone. No goodbye, thank you, we are going here or there or much of any of that. They had made a few individual donations but very little and that wasn’t really an issue but it would have been nice if they would have at least said goodbye.
Three more weeks went by and a large crate arrived and delivered by an independent trucker. He was able to drop it with his lift gate and JC’s people had him drop it on a trailer so they could move it where ever it needed to be moved. With pry bars they opened the crate and in it were several more boxes. A large envelope was on the top.
Chad had been called because his name was on it. “Dear Chad, an office girl is typing this up for us. We are not the best writers and wanted you to know, how much we appreciated you letting us stay at JC’s. What we didn’t tell you was, we had tried a couple of hotels before we went to your place. Let’s just say it didn’t work and we managed to stay out of jail. At your place we met so many people we could talk with. We started looking forward to time off just so we could go there. If we get back there, we will be looking for a place at JC’s again and hope we will be welcome. The rest of what is in the crate should be self-explanatory.
Your buddy Mike.
As they went deeper in the crate, they pulled out box after box. Chad just stood there shaking his head. A manual came out for a commercial dishwasher.
One of the people opening the boxes said, “Some of these are parts for that big old dishwasher we removed because the owner said it was too costly to repair and a lot of pieces to keep it going a long time.”
Another envelope, a bit dirty and crumbled revealed a hand-written note. “Don’t worry buddy. It’s not stolen. This company liked our work and when we explained you had one of their products and it wasn’t working, well, I think you will hear even more from them. They said they were going to send out a technetium to help get the machine up and running.”
Another over stuffed envelope was pulled out and opened, reveling a large amount of cash and in rough handwriting, a scribbled note, “As you know, the company pays for our room and board. We have never been treated so well and had such a great time. It was like a vacation. Thank everyone for their courtesy and kindness”
All of their names were on the note. Ralph Harris, Russ Deming, Brian Thompson, Mitchell Johnson, Sean McClure, Timothy Buckley and Mike Murphy.
Early in the days of starting up, John and Kyle had decided they would only decorate with things pertaining to and of interest to JC’s. If someone connected with JC’s, painted a picture, that was one thing. To put up a picture just because it looked nice wouldn’t do. People would offer this or that and some that were reported to be worth a lot. A lot of ideas of what would look best and what was proper and John and Kyle could see competition in the future. Better they thought, wait for things that will show people who we are and give the guests and volunteers something to be proud of.
This letter, like so many others, was framed but this one was hung on the wall outside the kitchen.
One day, Chad’s wife came to him in the middle of the day. There has been a terrible accident. One of the customers at the restaurant brought this news article to my attention. Chad, I have to get back to work but give me a call as soon as you decide what is best to do.
The article went on to say a machine accident had caused the death of one worker and injured two more. The company chad had worked for, had been named as the contractors. No details but that was enough.
Chad went to the center and asked if they had any information on the guys who had stayed for several weeks. All had left addresses and phone numbers and Chad copied Mike Murphy’s. He called Mikes home and his wife Laura answered.
“Mike told me about your place and oh Chad, they sure need you now. They can’t work now or at least until the investigation is over and I’m not sure they could ever work anyway.” She paused, obviously crying “It is so bad. They won’t even come home.”
Chad said “I have your address and I will try to send someone by that you need to talk with.” Chad would let the center know of the situation they would gather as much information as they could. Someone somewhere would know somebody who could go and visit with those who needed a visit. A person who understood enough to listen rather than going on about their own experiences.
The accident had taken place some three hundred miles west. Like so many things, Chad discussed the situation with the people at JC’s and everyone agreed he should go and try to look up Mike and the men. One of the volunteers, Charley Dawson, offered to drive Chad and they could take turns with his car as Chad’s truck would not be the best to take. They called their families and people at the center pulled together extra clothes, food and a few other things they might need. They were on the road in less than forty-five minutes from the time Chad decided to go. Under different circumstances it would be a picnic vacation. For now, it was, “be ready and fit for whatever comes along”. Taking turns, driving and napping they arrived at the city in less than six hours. Finding the factory was easy and from there they drove around the area until Chad spotted their trucks outside the Magpies bar. Michael sat there at the bar with Russ and Tim.
They sat there drinking and staring looking by Now, like they had been there a while because they were doing more staring than drinking.
“What are you boys drinking?” asked the bartender, “Two coffees please” as Chad sat down next to Mike and Charley Dawson sat down on the other end, next to Tim.
They sat there not speaking for some time, just drinking their coffee until Mike made the first move.
“Not a good time for talk Chad but I am glad to see ya.”
“This is my friend Charley Dawson. I don’t know if you met him at the center. He helped me drive so we could get here a little quicker.”
Introductions were made around and that seem to help them to open up.
Mike started in, “I don’t know how much you know or have heard about the accident, but it was bad. It was so bad.” He paused and took a drink from his beer. “Because of the location in the factory it took a long time for the rescue equipment to get there. It was a heave piece and they needed heavy equipment to move it. No overhead and no wide isles. All we could do was stand there and try to dream up something while we waited and listened to their screams and moans”. He paused looking into the bar mirror. “Brian didn’t make it and Shan and Ralph are in rough shape.”
“Mike, you still won’t have to listen to some righteous, seen the light speech, but we, Charley and I are going to say a little prayer and all you have to do is sit there.” With a nod from Chad, Charley started in Thanking God for a safe trip and how speedily they were able to locate the crew. He thanked Jesus for letting him be available to Mike and the crew and asked for healing for all. Than Chad jumped in asking for a quick recovery for Ralph and Sean and for good friends to be there for the families helping to bring comfort.
It was short but long enough to get the attention of two other customers and the bartender who bowed their heads in respect. Then, Chad started in with the Our Father, saying it very slowly and gradually everyone including the bartender recited it with them?”
Tim Buckley said, “That felt like when someone hands you the right wrench you didn’t ask for or even know you needed just then. Thanks, you guys.”
Chad Said, Charley and I are going over to the hospital. You are welcome to come along if you wish.
Russ piled in with Chad and Charley while Mike and Tim led with one of the tucks.
Traffic was heavy and the going slow. Chad was starting to wonder if he was doing the right thing, getting so involved in something he couldn’t do anything about. “Would they hate him because he wasn’t with them when the accident happened? He might have seen something that could have prevented it. How bad would they look? Could they even talk about Brian and how he died? Crushed, no doubt but how long and ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,”. His brain just wouldn’t stop. Over and over, so many questions and most would never have answers.
They made it to the hospital and up to the third floor. Chad and Charley went in first. Ralph Harris had obviously lost a leg. Sean, although he had a lot of bandages, didn’t look too bad. Both men looked like they were glad to see Chad and were introduced to Charley Dawson. Russ, Tim and Mike crowded in and found places around the room. “Can you two hombres believe these guys drove that far just to see ya?” Tim said.
Ralph said, “I bet they really came to try and straighten you three out, as if that were possible”.
More and more jabs around the room with a lot of laughter when a nurse came in. “For a couple of down in the mouth patents, you guys are having just too much fun. Some of the other patents want to come down and join you, so you better keep it down. Yes, call me Nurse Ratchet” Than she laughed and said “If I can have all of your permissions, I would like to take Mr. Harris for x-rays, that is unless one of you wants to do it and I’ll stay here and laugh, with you guys”
Shuffling around and moving out to the hall while they rolled Ralph’s bed away, they heard him tell Sean, “Please go ahead and tell them that story I just told you. It will be easier for you than me.”
As he was rolled away, they all came back in the room and looked at Sean.
“Let me tell ya, guys, this is going to be a little difficult.” He shuffled in the bed a bit, cleared his throat, “Well here goes. “It seems Ralph was in Vietnam and one day he came back to camp drugged up and weaving. He was in no condition to go out on patrol with his squad. One of the other guys said he would take his place which apparently happened often, one person taking another’s watch or run. On this day the squad was ambushed and the guy who took Ralph’s place got his leg shot off. He made it back to the states but that is all Ralph knows. Just before you guys came in, he told me the story and he said, and,,,,,,,,,, this is the difficult part. He said all these years I have been feeling guilty, to the point of not being able to sleep or get it out of my head. All of a sudden, I feel what that guy has been feeling. As soon as I can, I am going to look him up. I want to get better as soon as I can. Then he said, I guess God is not through working with me yet.”
They all stood there looking at the floor, thinking, holding back tears how, just a short while ago Chad and Charley had prayed for healing.
Ralph came back from X-ray and they all Stayed around for an hour or more, laughing and planning at least one more trip to JC’s. About that time the owner of the company Jo O’Rourke and his wife Stephanie came in. “well, it’s good to see all of you together and in good spirits. To what do we owe this to?”
It was all explained and Joe had heard about JC’s when Chad had said he would not be coming back to work, traveling on the road.
“Listen all, maybe there is not a good time to discuss this and rather than some boring needless meeting let me tell you now” Jo said. “We have insurance and as you have been told, your wages will continue. More importantly you are not all supermen. Staying away from your families and staying drunk will not do any of us any good. I need you guys to come back to work some day and I mean all of you. It will be some time before the investigation is over so you are all on a kind of paid vacation. I’m sorry but I am trying to say this as best and as quick as I can. Of course, you need to see your families and soon. After you spend some time with your families, I would like you to think about visiting JC’s and maybe staying there or in the vicinity for a while. I intend to visit there myself. I am curious about a place that has managed to do so much for so many for so little. I believe it can offer the kind of therapy you need and maybe I need. I have already talked with the insurance people and they had no trouble agreeing with me. I expect cost had a little to do with that. Just the same, based on what you guys have told me, I think it is the best we could provide. It will give you a chance to do a variety of positive things, meet with people of all walks of life and have a chance to get, more back than you can ever give.”
Stephanie spoke up, “Jo and I have talked about volunteering somewhere for some time and we believe JC’s might just be the place. JC’s has figured out that allowing people to volunteer for even one day or one hour, they often go away feeling like they have experienced some kind of healing. They want to volunteer more and are so willing to support something they are a part of. As you probably know, helping others or putting others before your self has many benefits. Psychological, as well as physical. Many studies and much has been learned. We feel like it is time we cashed in on some of that opportunity to help others and give back some of what we have built up.
The trip back to JC’s was uneventful. Chad and Charley talked about how much had been accomplished. In just a few hours, so many lives had been changed for the good. Well maybe not changed but given the chance to see the better side. “What if they had not come? What if they had not stopped at the bar? What if they had not gone to the hospital, talked with the other patents or the nurse, Jo or Stephanie O’Rourke or the so many others they got a smile from. They had done nothing or at least very little but what a payoff.”
Back at the center, they received a generous welcome. The media had already picked up a story about the people JC’s had sent out to be with the families of the workers and a story had been given about how the attitude of the patients had improved with a visit from JC’s.
Chad and Charley made a trip out to the chapel and stayed for a good half hour.
For a while at least, the volunteer situation would have to be managed well. At least for now there would be more people than needed so they would give as many as possible a chance even to the point of creating new jobs. A list would be made being sure to get as much information as possible as well as being sure, no one was left out. Things were painted with half cans of donated paint, tables were being built from old pallets, the trail around the large outside area was being improved, trees were trimmed and donated plants put in the ground. JC’s knew there would be times when volunteers would be scarce and good positive volunteers were their best investment.
Fruitcake Folly #6
“Wow, what was that?” He just stumbled back against the building wall taking inventory. It’d hit him right in the chest and there probably would be a bruise there but it wasn’t the kind of hit that leads to bleeding or at least he didn’t think so. Felt like somebody punched him real hard. Looking down, he seen a wrapped package and picking it up found a store-bought fruitcake inside.
He sat down there on the pavement, in a bit of a corner, out of people’s way and examined the fruitcake. Not to his surprise, it had never been opened. Although very few people cared about cake, he happened to like it a lot. It was obvious this was not sent to him as a gift in fact it really wasn’t sent to him. He just happened to be there and was a good target. He remembered a vehicle racing by, a loud radio, a voice hollering “Merry Christmas wineo fool”.
Arnie Dexter had been hit with eggs, tomatoes, cabbages, pieces of wood, stones, he had been beat up, urinated on, spit on, stabbed and kicked. He had never been hit with a fruitcake.
Living on the street, one gets used to most anything and you learn pretty early on, there is no one to complain to. Respect is not something you are privy to.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone would’ve come up and handed him fruitcake. Such a silly thought but then, well, that just doesn’t happen to street people. This is the street and this is the real world.
Arnie new he could not sit here very long. He needed to collect cans, and check out some dumpsters and it was already pretty late in the day. He had fallen asleep the night before in a dumpster behind Bradshaw’s hardware and a good thing for him it wasn’t trash pickup day. Anyway, the bottle he had found late yesterday had Him sleeping far too long.
A female voice asked, “are you all right?” She seemed to come out of nowhere, well-dressed and acting concerned. “Those crazy kids threw that right at you and they were going pretty fast. It must’ve hit you really hard. Shouldn’t you go to the hospital and have that checked? I would be glad to give you a ride”.
“I’m all right. Just stunned me for a minute. Thank you for asking ma’am.”
He got back up, grabbing the fruitcake in the bag it was in and started down the street. Maybe it was the sign pointing to the hospital on the corner, maybe the church bells that were ringing somewhere, it might’ve been the pregnant lady that passed him by and smiled, wishing him a Merry Christmas. Cars and people hurried on by, some going one way, some going another. A cacophony of sounds from sirens, Christmas music, blaring horns and loud voices.
It was all just way too much and he hurried around the corner, across the street and under an old dark stairway leading up to an abandon apartment over an abandoned carpet store. Back in the corner he felt his knees give out, leaning against the wall, crying, vomiting, and feeling like his whole insides were coming out.
She didn’t like fruitcake and would make jokes when he ate it. Just playful jokes and she bought him all the special fruitcakes this time a year. She was the kind of person that just beamed when she knew she did something good for some one. Sometimes she would come home in tears and he would hold her while she told him about one of her students that she just couldn’t seem to help. All the stray animals knew her and Arnie and his wife were going to move to the country, just as soon as they could, after the baby was born, so that they could take care of needy animals in their spare time.
After a while Arnie pulled himself together. But what he needed was a drink and he was pretty sure Mike was good for it. Mike owned a bar in town and when a customer left a drink, he would funnel it into an empty bottle and set the bottle outside the back door in a corner where Arnie could find it. Sometimes, if Arnie was lucky, Mike might’ve saved several drinks and the bottle might be almost full. He had to make sure that he left the bottle so that Mike would refill it.
On his way over to Mikes bar, he found an old discarded milk carton. This would work just fine.
Sure enough, back behind the used cooking grease barrel was the bottle. Not quite half full but enough for Arnie Dexter right now. Carefully pouring it into the empty milk carton, replacing the bottle back where he found it, he was on his way. He had taken a pretty good pull on the bottle before putting the rest in the milk carton.
By now it was getting late. He must’ve fallen asleep back there and not realized it. He really wasn’t very hungry but he couldn’t remember how many days it had been since he ate. He trudged along through some of the back alleys and back over to JC’s where he knew he could get some hot food. Almost back to JC’s, he ran in to Bridget. What you got their Arnie? Handing her the carton he said have a swallow I guess it’s going to be Christmas, so Merry Christmas. Bridget took the carton held it up and then stopped.
“Where’d you get this carton Arnie?” Its sure smells like it’s got some antifreeze in it.
Arnie stopped dead. He thought for a few minutes as they both stared at each other. They both knew what antifreeze meant. “I, I, picked it up behind Marks repair shop”.
“We got a get you into JC’s. They’ll know what to do. Bring the carton with you in case they want to check it.”
They hurried off and in a matter of minutes they were in JC’s telling their story. The Hospital and poison control were called and both Bridget and Arnie were hurried off to emergency.
Arnie was in a rather drunken state and couldn’t remember whether he had drunk from the carton or not. Bridget said that she had not drank any and did not remember seeing Arnie drink from the carton but who knew what he had done before she seen him.
Tests were made and Arnie was told that he would have to stay for the night. Had he been a little soberer he might have protested but as it was, he had little desire or strength to protest anything.
The next day Arnie found himself on his back in a hospital bed trying to put together pieces of his memory and missing quite a few pieces. There were tubes and flashing lights, buzzing things and everything much cleaner than what he was used to. He laid there a little while, then realizing there was somebody else in the room. Looking over, a well-dressed woman, middle-aged, nodded to him.
“So, Mr. Arnie Dexter, I understand you thought you were a car radiator. My name is Wendy Dower and I’m a psychiatrist”
“you can just leave right now, and unless I committed some crime, I’m going to do the same.”
Several minutes of time passed and finally Wendy said, “maybe sometime later you will want to talk to me. I can be contacted through JC’s. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Bridget,,,,,,,,,,,,,,”
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Arnie hollered and started weeping uncontrollably burying his face in his pillow.
Although Wendy had started out the door, she knew this was not the time to leave. Seeing a nurse in the hallway asked if Arnie was allowed coffee yet. “Could you bring a couple, black?” She went back to her seat and as Arnie seemed to calm down a bit, told him, “Bridget was doing quite well and had been asking about him.” That seem to quiet him. More time passed and eventually Arnie, rolled on his back. “Is she alright, I mean is she okay did she drink any,”? his voice fading away.
“Yes” Wendy said, “She is all right. Bridget didn’t drink any of the antifreeze and it doesn’t look like you did either. You were both very lucky. There probably wasn’t much in the carton when you poured the whiskey in but on an empty stomach, well I have an idea, you understand what might have been. The doctor was in before you woke up and said you were suffering from malnutrition but there were no traces of the poison in your system. You will be able to leave just as soon as you feel up to it and it’s in their best interests to free up the bed, that you have no means to pay for.”
She let that soak in a while, cranking the bed up so that he could sit and giving him the coffee, and sitting back down.
All the noises in the hospital seemed to be magnified. The voices, cartwheels in the hallway, machines buzzing and beeping. Wendy knew that Arnie was hearing them also, but he just sat there sipping and staring into his cup. This was good, just maybe he was thinking.
Finally, Wendy got up, “I am leaving now as I have work to do. JC’s knows how to get a hold of me when you’re ready and I have an idea that is going to be very soon.”
With that she left.
In a little while the doctor came in, looked at Arnie and said, “there is not much more that we can do here. The best doctor you can have right now is yourself. I believe you know more than anybody, about what you really need to do if you want to stay well. I have ordered extra food for your meal and I suggest you eat it. After that you are free to go. The nurse will remove the tubes and give you your clothes.” The doctor left.
The meal, a bit large as it was, came and Arnie did his best to eat most of it. He quickly dressed and left the hospital, finding his way over to JC’s salvage. It didn’t take long for him to locate Bridget and the two of them sat down at a long table with some other people from the shelter. He or rather they talked about what had happened and how they had heard of other people accidentally drinking poisons like antifreeze and not coming out as well as Arnie.
A few days went by but Arnie just didn’t seem to be himself. He went out looking for cans but even when he found enough, didn’t drink as hard as he had been. Back at the shelter he ate very little and seemed to spend a lot of time sleeping. To those around him, he looked like he was in a trance and was just waiting to die. Some days, he would go out and walk the circle track around the yard, staring and walking. He might sit in one of the many benches in the yard but no one could get him to engage in any of the activities.
After the fourth day away from the hospital he approached a volunteer asking if they could get hold of Wendy for him. Wendy was called and she would be there in about 3 ½ hours as there was somebody else that she needed to see.
When Wendy showed up, she invited Arnie to follow her to the special room that JC’s had arranged for volunteer therapists. It was a rather large but still warm feeling room, they had paneled one wall with of all things, refinished palette wood. There were only two chairs in the room, very comfortable chairs, the kind you fall down into and want to go to sleep. The room was decorated very sparsely, a couple of books on a small shelf, a few scenery pictures, some framed forms that Arnie assumed where licenses. There was no machinery in the room, no computer, no television and only some very large windows looking out to an enclosed garden with a tiny pond.
The minute Arnie sat down he felt comfortable and just wanted to be quiet and say nothing. He could see the door if he wanted to leave in a hurry but he didn’t feel like he wanted to leave. It was all just so quiet and so comfortable.
Finally, Wendy said, “don’t think you’re going to fall asleep. That’s what you were doing the last time I came to see you and I have far too much work to do, to watch people sleep. You called me and this is how it works. You start talking and actually you’ll be talking to yourself a lot. There are probably a lot of things you need to hear yourself say. That doesn’t mean that I’m not listening but if I keep barging in, you may never get to say the things you need to hear yourself say. I have this pad of paper and will take some notes if I need to but please, start in when you’re ready.
“Where do I start” in a very low voice then clearing his throat a little louder “where do I start? If you’ve been around at all you know more about me than I know about myself. I’m just another drunk. Believe it or not I was once a real person. I don’t remember a lot of it and maybe I don’t want to. I’ve been drinking really heavy for several years and that seems to be the only thing I want to do. I would like to get my life back or at least I think I would. How do I even start that? Yes, I know these people here would help me, and they already have helped me a lot. They give me food and clothes and a place to sleep all for free and how would I ever pay all of that back? I didn’t pay my wife back very good when she let me get things I didn’t need. It cost as much as $100 a day to stay in a hotel. Some hotels, at least some crummy ones are only $25 a day. If you buy a hunting bow, that costs a lot of money, and I would never shoot an animal. She knew that. But that still ends up,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,. I have stayed here a long time and I’ve eaten a lot of meals. The meals here are pretty good and even though I’m not hungry a lot, some are hiding a lot of meals. Big trucks deliver food and you have to watch out and don’t take the street they are on. I’m glad Bridget is all right. Bridget is a nice lady. Bridget and I have been talking to some of the other people and warning them about drinking things that they’re not sure of. The doctor seemed to think that I needed to eat a little more so I’ve been trying to eat more. I used to like,,,.” And then he stopped. Just sitting there for a time and finally saying, “I think I need to leave now.” Getting up, opening the door and leaving without another word.
Wendy scribbled herself a few notes and leaving the room herself, stopped at the desk and asked them to give Mr. Arnold Dexter a message that she would be by in three days at 10 in the morning and if he liked, she would see him again.
Driving back to her office, Wendy thought about all the things that he had said. A lot of rambling, touching on a lot of different subjects, and not really saying anything. Part of this was because he was nervous and uncomfortable to the fact that he was being seen by a psychiatrist but maybe, in all of it, there was more to it. Right now, she couldn’t be sure, what if anything he was trying to say and it would take more time if she was ever going to be able to help him.
On Wendy’s suggestion, one of the volunteers asked Arnie if he would like to help with one of the chores. There was always a long list of things that needed to be done and any time, there was a possibility of getting one of the guests to help out, they, JC’s tried to provide a chore that would work out best for JC’s as well as the guest.
Arnie agreed and started out painting one small wall in a bathroom. Not all the walls but just one. Something he would be able to see the completion of and feel good about the improvement. It wasn’t a big job but that was part of JC’s planning. If they could get even a small job done by one of the guests that was better than nothing. Furthermore, they had found that by offering the small jobs they often lead to the individual doing larger jobs. JC’s had learned that people like to be appreciated and how easy it was to appreciate somebody who was doing work for you for free even the smallest job. By the next day Arnie found himself carrying out trash, doing a little more painting as he was very good at it, and found himself being introduced to wooden palette salvage and seeing all the beautiful work that had come from what others had thrown away. Some people were flattening out tin cans and using them to roof bird houses and even a dog house. Some were cutting up worn clothing for rags as well as other uses.
Arnie had still managed to find time to get a drink now and then but caught himself trying to slow down. He knew he would never be able to stop. He was smart enough to know that he was addicted and when you’re addicted you just don’t stop drinking. Sure, he had been invited to the classes, but always managed to beg off. That just wasn’t for him.
Arnie told the person at the front desk that he would meet Wendy again and so he was ready when she showed up at 10 in the morning. They went back to the same room and the same comfortable chair with the same relaxing view in the same quiet. Why couldn’t it always be like this?
Wendy told Arnie how glad she was to see him and the fact that he showed up made her feel like her job was worthwhile. Once again telling him she was there to listen and not ready to give any advice so he could start right in as she only had an hour before she was to see someone else.
Arnie went through the things he’d been doing for the last few days. Said he felt good about being useful and even though some of the work seemed to be very easy he was busy. He told about painting the wall in the bathroom and although he was pretty shaky, found a way to make very straight lines. “Straight lines were important in the painting job and if you took your time and covered up the areas you didn’t want to get paint on it always came out good.” He said Bridget was doing well and he was glad that she didn’t get hurt because of him. he told her about taking out the trash and how some birds were coming around the trash container and how you have to cover up the trash container because the birds come around and then stray cats might get the birds, and he talked about just a whole lot of things, rambling on and on, one subject not meeting up with the next. He started telling her about the wooden pallets and talked about the creative ideas and things people were making of these pallets. He said they would make a great fence if you wanted to keep stray animals in and safe,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,. and once again he froze. Stopped dead in his conversation, sitting there for a while then saying again it’s time for me to leave and once again leaving without another word.
Again, Wendy stopped at the desk, left a small pad of paper with instructions for Arnie to use it to write whatever he wanted to and she would like to read it on her return in four more days. Once again, he was to notify the desk if he wanted to see her.
At the next meeting, Arnie brought the pad of paper Wendy had left. Wendy asked to see it. There were words or maybe writings, excellent hand writing but with little meaning. Sentences running on or subjects running into each other. There were drawings, mostly stick figures, animals, a bow and arrow in several pictures. A picture of a broken car and what looked like a broken truck. There were stick figures of people and one which caught Wendy’s attention, A figure which was obviously a woman with a large bump where the stomach should be. There were other drawings and all were scattered around pages and nothing connecting to anything else.
Wendy handed to pad beck and let him talk until he once again, just got up and left.
More and more meetings, sometimes Arnie having notes for her and always a lot of things to talk about but not really connected. At one point he admitted that he needed to stop his drinking and was going to try really hard. He might even go to a meeting.
Sometimes when Arnie came to a meeting, he seemed to act like he was afraid. Afraid of what, Wendy didn’t know.
By now a couple of months had gone by and each meeting seemed like a lot more gibberish although Arnie did seem to be improving, getting more and more involved at JC’s, being more of a help, and trying harder to quit his drinking. This day, like all the other days, he came and sat in the chair but this time he seemed just a little different. Wendy told him to start in whenever he was ready. He calmly started out,” I read the paper today and the woman in Mansfield was killed.” And he was quiet. Wendy waited and waited, expecting he had much more to say. This was quite a long way away and what does that have to do with him. She had learned by now that he cared about people and didn’t like to see them hurt but this was going on all the time and what would make him pick out this particular incident? She gave him quite a bit more time but her time was getting short and finally she asked, “so what does this have to do with you?”
He sat there not moving at first, then finally grabbing his face and like she’d heard once before,” oh God, oh God, oh my dear God, I killed my wife.” And with that, he got up out of the chair ran out the door and Wendy would find out that he ran out of JC’s.
Wendy stopped at the desk as usual, leaving a message for John and Kyle to give her a call as soon as they could. She had another client to see but would be free in an hour. It was important.
Wendy met with her client and then returned the call to John. They arranged for a meeting time and together with Kyle went into a small private room. They all understood about client confidentiality but they also understood that JC’s was responsible not only to the law but to other clients, other guests, and society. Some things had to be shared. Wendy told him what she could, mainly that Arnie had confessed to killing his wife.
Sitting there a few minutes quietly ruminating on the information, Karl broke in first,” we have learned a lot about jumping the gun, making too much out of too little information. As much as the authorities watch our place it would seem that by now, we would have heard something.” John spoke up, “he has never shown any fear or acted like he was hiding anything when the authorities have gone around making bed checks, looking for someone they thought might be here. I agree with Kyle, we need to do something fairly quick but not so quick that we do more damage to whatever has already been done.
“All right” Wendy said, “I think we all know what we have to do, phone calls, the library, old newspapers and the rest. Speaking of rest don’t believe there will be any for a couple days. We also need to do our best to locate Arnie and keep him safe before he does something more to himself or somebody else.”
The next four days were very busy days recruiting as many volunteers as they could and still, while telling them very little, were able to do a considerable amount of research. Any clue they could think of, they would follow to the very end.
On the fourth day they got a break. The guests had been asked to watch out for him and one of the guests had seen Arnie hanging out in an old factory. “I know he didn’t see me but I seen him and I didn’t say anything to him. I just came right back here to tell you guys. I don’t know what’s going on but I sure hope you can help Arnie. We really like him and he’s a hard worker. Puts the rest of us to shame, and Lord knows we need little shame.”
Together Wendy, Kyle, and John, drove out close to the old factory, walking about a quarter mile so they might have a better chance of him not seeing them to soon. They entered the factory and quickly enough, found Arnold. He didn’t make any attempt to run but just sat there as though he was a waiting for somebody to arrest him.
A bit of silence and maybe nobody wanted to be the first one to speak but eventually Wendy said, “we know what happened. We came on a news clipping and looked up the story. It was not your fault that your wife died in an accident.” They all sat there quietly for a while and John suggested they all go back to JC’s where they could get a cup of coffee and Arnold could clean up a bit. Without much resistance Arnold went with them, back to JC’s and took a shower with very little insistence. He put on the sweats JC’s provided and met with them in a small private room having coffee and sandwiches. Kyle and John told Arnold they were just there to assure him that he was still more than welcome at JC’s and would do anything they could to help him move forward. They would leave him with Wendy as this was her work.
“Please stay” Arnold said, “if you have time, I think it’s best that you all here this.
“I suppose you might say I have been on the run. When it happened and all I could do was leave.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Wendy said “what made you think that you killed your wife? The authorities told us it was an accident that you couldn’t have avoided. You were in the right. You weren’t speeding, he was in the wrong lane, and there was nothing you could do.”
Arnold looked at her, staring as
though he was looking right through her, “I like to shoot a bow. I don’t care
about hunting and she would’ve never
let me hunt anyway, but I like to shoot. I was pretty good at it and even won a
few trophies. I am a designer by trade, designing very high-priced furniture
for big hotels. That can get quite boring and so the bow and little competition
used to break up the monotony.”
“What does” Kile started in, then realizing it was not the time to ask questions.
“That day, we were on our way to see a German Shepherd that we had heard about. It had been hurt and the people could not afford to take it to the vet. Francine was in a hurry to get there but when I pleaded, she agreed it would be okay to take enough time to check out the new bow at the sport shop.” He paused for a long time.
Finally, John looked at him, “I think we can take it from here, I remember from doing our homework and checking the area, there was a sport shop, just off Main Street. You figure by turning off the main Street that it was your fault that she wound up in the path of that vehicle. I’m not in your socks my friend but in this business it’s not always easy to be as gentle as we would like to be. You are carrying around an extremely valuable body and one that could be doing a lot for other people. By now you should’ve figured out that caring around guilt accomplishes nothing. This will probably not go away easy and I hope you always have pleasant memories, warm memories to remember her by. While you are working on that how about if we all work on cleaning you up so you can give us back some of our investment.”
There were more meetings and more talks, Arnie doing the AA meetings and working hard at JC’s salvage. He knew he couldn’t move back to his old home and with the help of some people at JC’s contacted his family who were very happy to hear how he was doing. They arranged to take care of all of his business matters, sell his house with most of its contents and send him whatever was important. Along with everything else he walked away from was a sizable bank account. Buying a place in the country just like she would’ve liked and with references from his old employer didn’t take very long for him to find a job or as it turned out, offers for several of them. When he did his interviews, he made it clear that because he had been helped so much, he wanted the best job he could get so that he could earn a lot of money to pay back all the people that needed help. No, he wasn’t going to throw it out on the street but there were organizations.
The Place that Arnie bought consisted of 40 acres about 10 acres of which were trees. It was owned by an older couple that had farmed it many years before but could no longer keep it up. There was a large barn and a number of outbuildings with plenty of room for archery and for taking care of any stray animals that just happened to come along.
He asked the former owners to stay on for several months while he made some changes to suit his needs. With the large farmhouse it was easy for all of them to have their privacy and it worked out very well. Mrs. Myers would make his meals for him and Mr. Myers advised him and helped him on a number of projects around the farm. Mr. and Mrs. Myers were tickled to feel helpful and Arnie was glad that they were able to save him so many steps. Arnie told them about JC’s and one day a call to JC’s got him a van and eight people coming out and help around the farm.
Here they were, these poor, lonely, homeless people, most not acclimated to this kind of living, running around laughing, curious, asking a lot of questions, and being helpful. Arnie had called the local lumber yard and arranged for enough material to clean up the old granary and make it a decent sleeping area. JC’s sent him a lot of things that had been donated to them and were extra. This was to become a place in the country for the poor and the homeless, the alcoholics and the drug addicts, some of the mentally disturbed. It wouldn’t happen overnight and he wouldn’t just turn a lot of needy people loose in an area without proper supervision but this was a start. He had people coming out this time who were suffering from poverty and being homeless. This was to be a little vacation for them only staying as long as they wanted to and only working if they cared to. This was time to take a break trying to decide where they wanted to go from here.
Right from the beginning, Mr. and Mrs. Myers had asked Arnie if he would like to go to church with them on Sunday. Feeling like he needed to prove himself he said yes and found himself being introduced to several people in the community on their way into church. Of course, there had to be a small brunch after church and nothing would do but they would have to attend and introduce him to even more people. Arnie didn’t realize that one day he would look forward to going up in front of the church and telling his story. That would come later. Right now, he was meeting people but more importantly he found he needed to be there in church every Sunday. That took a while to.
On a Saturday evening a call came in Mr. Arnold Dexter? This is Sally from JC’s, I have a note here for you to call Wendy as soon as you can. She says it’s okay to call late. Do you need her number?
When he called Wendy, she told him how glad she was to hear from him and had heard that he was doing well. She had some information, important information and was not something she could exchange over the phone. Could he come in one evening and meat with them at JC’s.?”
“I get off work at 6 PM and you are about a half-hour from my work. Will 630 6:45 tomorrow work?”
He arrived at JC’s, Wendy, John, Karl all waiting for him in one of the small private meeting rooms. Sandwiches small pieces of vegetables and fruit were waiting and he was glad to tear into them while he was listening.
“We are going to have to bring up old history again,” Wendy said. “This is about your accident and information that you need to have. Some new information has only recently come to the surface in regards to the accident and the young man driving the truck. People came by from the prosecutor’s office wanting to talk to you. They didn’t have your new address and of course, as we often do, we put them off as long as we could trying to get just a little more information. I was able to get a judge involved in the case and explain not only who I was but what you have been through and how you are doing. That bought us or more importantly you a little more time to figure out what you’re going to do or what you need to do. It turns out the truck that hit your wife had bigger intentions. It seems he was headed towards a schoolyard at a very large school to do some horrific damage. This information only came to light recently by way of a snitch wanting some air for his own case. As bad as it is, the accident saved an awful lot of children’s lives. They, people in authority, would like to open the case up again. Right now, the young man is charged with manslaughter. They would like to have him charged with a capital crime and arrange for him to get capital punishment.”
“Wow” Arne said. “That is a lot to take in. After what I have been through, what I have seen and all the help I have had, it is difficult to think the way I might have a few years ago.” He sat there in silence for a while, finally breaking in, “has anyone heard what the young man has to say?”
“We were discussing that, before you came in,” Windy said “and to answer you, no, we have no idea what he is saying. What ever happens isn’t going to happen over night so I believe we can use what ever influence we can, to find out a little more.”
A considerable amount of time passed and eventually the story came out that the young driver of the truck had been hired by a third party and had no idea what was in the truck. There were issues about the condition of the truck, breaks, steering and so on. The person who had hired him matched the description of a person who had been under surveillance for some time but disappeared. Later a street camera had picked him up in another country. Not much more was said about him but it was apparent that enough was known to show beyond the shadow of a doubt, the accuracy of the young man’s story. Because of the length of the investigation and trial, the young man had been given probation and time served.
Wendy insisted on meeting with Arnie again and he assured her that he harbored no ill feelings and it looked like the young man had been through more than he deserved.
One Friday night Jessica from JC’s called, “Arnold we have about five guests here that would love to come out and visit your farm tomorrow. I told them they might have to do a little work and they’re looking forward to it. Everybody likes to get out to the country. There is a local lady here that wants to bring them out and is willing to drive the van. She is a judge and usually volunteers late evenings. I never thought she was the kind of woman that would want to visit the farm but will take any volunteer we can get.
Saturday morning the van arrived, Arnie was out from the house a way, cutting up an old dead tree and not paying much attention to their arrival. Pretty soon they walked out to where he was working and turning around, he seen a face he recognized. It was obvious that she was the driver, but from where did he recognize her? He was sure he hadn’t seen her at the shelter.
Feeling a little uncomfortable, Arnie just moved on to the guests and suggesting some small chores telling them were the boundary lines were and about the refrigerator in the barn if they needed snacks or something to drink. “The place is yours to enjoy. Be safe and explore.”
Finally, he turned back to this very attractive woman who had driven the van. “I’m sorry and ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, hate this part. I’ve been through this before and I don’t know how else to do it so I just have to ask. Maybe it’s my imagination but I think I know you from somewhere.”
She looked at him, saying basically the same thing. “Yes, I heard your name was Arnie, mine is Carla, and that is not Judge Carla, at least not right now, and I feel I have met you somewhere. This is a beautiful thing you have going on here. All the way out, the guests were talking about it. The two who had been here before telling the others, I thought we were headed to Disney World” she giggled.
Arnie said, “there are no dinosaurs or space ships but I do have a mouse or two” and invited her up to the house for coffee. They talked about the guests and how they liked the country, and both agreed it would be nice to have more time to spend outdoors with so many who don’t get a chance for this kind of experience.
“I sure wish I could remember where I’ve seen you.”
“Well I heard you were a judge and I haven’t committed any crimes that I know about but, all of a sudden he hollered, “fruitcake, I was hit with the fruitcake.”
She looked at him and sitting there in silence as if she were turning pages of a book. Then, she seemed to wake up, as if from a bad dream. “Is this all some kind of cheap trick?” She demanded “yes I remember you now, dressing up in old ragged clothes, arranging for somebody to hit you with that package, knowing I worked at JC’s. I can’t believe anyone would do something so outrageous, I should have known.” And putting her coffee cup down hard, started to get up.
Arnie sat back shaking his head, “no no, please, absolutely not, I guess this is one of those things that some people call coincidence. If you will give me just a minute, I will try and explain some things to you.”
When he had seen her on the street and she had asked him if he was all right, the night he got hit by the fruitcake, he never dreamed he would ever see her again. Much had happened after that and he was trying to be a different person. He told about his wife and many of the things that had transpired before and after her death. He told her about his interaction with JC’s and was surprised he had never seen her there. He told her that it was people just like her, that helped him get back on his feet. His story took quite a little while and before it was through, there were tears on both sides of the table. It was an incredible story, one he wasn’t likely to make up and when he was finished, they both sat there staring at each other
He was starting to feel pretty nervous and it was obvious they were both a little nervous. Arnie said “I think we better go out and check on the guests, they might be having too much fun” and they both laughed.
Standing on the porch outside and looking over the less than perfect landscape, they could see a few of the guests. One of the women was sitting in the grass with a mother cat and several little ones. A couple of the men were struggling with some wire and wood, attempting to repair a fence. Another man was nailing a piece of tin over a hole in the barn. Carla asked, “So where do you go from here? If I can be a bit judicious”, smiling, “It seems like you have a number of projects started and with enough support could be finished quickly”.
“Just like JC’s Salvage, I want this to belong to them.” Arnie said, “I want it to be their creation or at least I would like the poor and rejected people to have something they had a part in. It will never be that theme park or some Gentleman Farm, but hopefully a collection of thoughts and ideas, mixed with a little sweat that will always have that sweet sunny aroma of spring hope. Hope is not something we can satisfy and move on but instead, something we must continually feed with our caring. Out here they are given a chance to care for something and better yet, we are given a chance to care for them.”
“Somewhere in all of us is the desire to be better. Better at something. Maybe giving them what they think will make them happy or better is not so good but I believe feeding them hope will help them to make the right choices to get the better which will do the most for them. I can’t save the world and as far as that goes, I can’t save anyone but I can let them know that I care and do my best to show that. Sometimes that is a lot harder than it seems.”
“Do you think bringing them out here and giving them lunch and a place to relax is giving them hope?” Carla asked.
“No, Arnie said, “that has little to do with what they really need. Sitting with them or working with them and sometimes not sharing even a word. Complementing them on what they do, seeing them on the street, have you ever looked for the poor and marginalized on the street? Once you start looking, they are everywhere. They need to be seen and that is caring. That is the start of hope. Out here they are seen in just a different setting and that is about all”.
Carla looked at Arnie, “I have been working at JC’s salvage shelter for some time. Now that I think about it, they do like to be outside. I have walked with some of the guests on the path around the yard, had hot dog roasts, bonfires and built snowmen outside with them and it has been fun. You are right, sometimes we hardly shared a word but we were communicating. I have to say, your idea of hope and caring must have some substance. I have come away from the shelter many times feeling better than when I arrived. Not sure if it was what I got or what I gave but it seems to work.”
The rest of the day was spent doing small chores mixed with playful actives and ending the day with a bonfire.
Mr. and Mrs. Myers were still living in the house and Arnie was hoping for a long time to come. They were invited to join in the activities and nothing would do but she must bring something. Taking one of the men with her, headed back to the house, bringing back out hot dogs, buns, condiments, home-made cookies and so much more.
It was a difficult thing to end but end it must and back in the van with, thank you’s, great time, hope we can do it again.
Arne asked Carla if she would ever mind bringing a group again? “I would like to talk with you some more.”
Carla looked at Arnie. “I would like you to hear my story some time and I would be turning this van right around as soon as I get back, with another load of guests if I didn’t have responsibilities.”
“If it’s all right with you, I would like to come out as soon as I can get a day off. By the way, The Myers have invited me out to church on Sunday.”
The van drove away and Mr. and Mrs. Myers said good night, returning to the house. Arnie walked out to the bonfire, pulling a small cross out of his pocket, sitting down by the smoldering coals.
Arnie sat there for some time just contemplating and listening and finally, looking at the cross he heard himself say “yes Boss, your plans are always the right ones.”
A Sound Lesson #7
This was just his regular Sunday of canning. Sunday was usually a pretty good day to pick up returnable cans, as a lot of people had been out partying the Saturday night before. This day, it started raining. Danny had been up real early because the competition was tough. There were a lot of people out there trying to get those returnable cans and if he was going to get his addiction satisfied today, he would need at least a couple dozen. He didn’t do all that well anymore panhandling. He had long ago stopped trying to look clean and neat or use the same stories about his sick mother and his sick aunt and the operations that people were going to have, as none of the stories seemed to work anymore, anyway.
It started raining early, but now it started raining hard. Danny was used to being wet and used to being in the rain but he thought he might get up against a building maybe behind a bush somewhere at least for a few minutes until the rain slowed down.
Looking around at the closest buildings, he found a spot that seem to be dry, close to the building and some bushes that would hide him from meddling people. Not seeing anybody he pushed his way back through the bushes and into a corner where he was well hidden. The spot was perfect, looking like it had been used by animals as well as other humans.
Danny sat down, pulling out the small bottle he had found, that was almost a quarter full of what he needed. Removing the cap, he took a good swallow and although he was quite wet, this dry place and the warm drink made him feel very good. Danny nodded off and after a while woke up to music. Not just music but church music and after all this was Sunday, wasn’t it? Danny didn’t care much about music, whether it was Sunday music or any other day music. Danny cared about his addictions and that was about all he had time for.
Sitting there in that dry place, he listened just the same. Some of the instruments, some of the voices, some of it together, some of it individually, had he heard it before? Was it something from another life? And then there was one voice. Maybe higher, maybe happier, what did he know about music? Why was he even thinking about music? Why did one voice catch his attention?
It was time to go. He needed a lot more cans and other people were out there by now, hitting all the good spots. He would go back by the old tubing factory. Young people would go back there at night and drink and throw their cans out. Most of the other canners knew about the spot but what they didn’t know, at the edge of the parking lot, in one spot there was a bit of a drop off and many of the cans would wind up down there where they really couldn’t be seen. Danny had hidden down there one day when someone was after him to steal his cans and discovered a horde of cans. From then on, he was very careful when he went to that area, not that he was afraid of being beat up but afraid somebody might discover his pickup spot.
The next Sunday found Danny hiding back in the same corner. It wasn’t raining and he wasn’t tired but all week long that voice kept ringing in his head. This is the direction he usually went on Sundays as this was part of his route. What would it hurt to just stay back there for a little while and after a while the music started again? Songs were sung instruments were played and so often that voice that was so much different than the others.
This went on for several months, every Sunday finding Danny tucked back in the corner in his own special place listening intently, anxious to hear that special voice.
Like all good things coming to an end and maybe to a good end, one day, one Sunday, while the music was playing, an old man came through the brush slowly and looking at Danny.
“Good morning” he said to Danny, “I am all alone, my wife died three years ago and although my children come around at times, I spend a lot of days by myself. I have been watching you for a long time from my front porch and I think you are very lonely to. If you would come across the street to my house, I would make us breakfast and at least for a little while, we wouldn’t be lonely. I would serve the breakfast on my back porch and you don’t need to be afraid of anybody coming around.”
Danny felt bad that he had been discovered and food really wasn’t what he was looking for but thought a little bit, that maybe he could talk this old man out of some money or some empty cans. Maybe he could use his bathroom and find some pills in the cabinet. Whatever he did it was obvious he couldn’t stay there in the bushes.
Off they went together, the old man leading, Danny following with his small bag of empty cans, around the back of the house to a clean and cozy enclosed back porch.
“Just Make yourself comfortable while I get us some grub together. There’s a pot of coffee over there on the table and some coffee mugs with the fixens. Help yourself and there is a bathroom just inside the door if you need it.”
Danny headed for the bathroom but there were no cabinets or pills to be seen. The bathroom was just that and nothing more.
Back out on the porch sitting there drinking very black coffee, once again he heard that voice. The windows were open in the church across the street and the voice seemed to ring out louder than the others.
It wasn’t long, the old man who had introduced himself as Wade, Wade Simmons, came back with two plates of food. Eggs, pancakes, sausage, toast and another trip brought orange juice, butter, jam and syrup.
“I don’t call myself the best cook but I usually make a lot to make up for it. Eat what you want and leave the rest. I drive out to the woods and feed some animals. They don’t seem to mind what I cook.”
“If’n you don’t mind, I’ll say a thank you for the food.” And he started in, “Bless us dear Lord and this food you provided,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,” at the end he added, “and Donna, I know you’re up there listening, and one of these days were gonna be together again, but I want you to know I found a new friend so please help watch out for the both of us, amen.”
Danny felt himself squirming a bit, eating rapidly and eating a lot more than he thought he would. He wanted to run away very bad but something in him seem to hold him back. The old man talked about his wife Donna as if she was right there with them, and he said he went to church on Saturday, and on Sunday, him and Donna would sit there listening to the music. “Yes, I know she’s not right here or at least we can’t see her, but somehow that music and that very special singer makes me feel much closer to her.”
“I know you need to leave and I have to clean up here before I go to the cemetery. I hope you’ll come again for a little while. You and I don’t have to be lonely.”
And that’s how it all started. Danny had told himself that he would never be back there again, that he would start taking a different direction and all the other things we tell ourselves when we are afraid to admit that we are just lonely. Danny did come back the next week on a Sunday and many Sundays after that. Danny knew that he was not very healthy, all of the years of addiction had taken its toll. In the past he had pushed all of that out of his mind, but lately it was harder and harder to deny it. He found himself staying around Wade’s house, more and more and sometimes even sleeping on the back porch on a small cot that Wade provided. Sometimes he helped Wade with some landscaping or cleaning out the rain gutters. He could climb ladders and do some things that Wade couldn’t do and he found himself feeling very good about doing it.
A lot of days he would leave and sometimes it would be several days before he returned. One day Wade said to him, “Danny, I care about you, like my own son. I’m going to tell you something and all I’m asking is that you think about it.”
He told Danny about a place he knew called JC’s salvage. JC’s was not a fancy place by anybody standards. JC’s was an old abandoned airport that had been turned into a center for the poor, the addicted, the homeless, and anybody else that wanted to visit for an hour, for a day, for the next two years. It was run almost totally by volunteers many of whom had known people in need or had been in need themselves. It was a large area with plenty of room for expansion and lots of things to do or just room to be alone if you chose. People from the medical profession would come around and do minor health screening, people to advise them on housing, managing their finances and just generally many things that they could use, if they chose, to help them towards a better life. Danny could go there, stay for free and try and clean himself up. There were not a lot of difficult rules but a lot of very helpful people, if and when he was ready for them.
Not right away, but Danny did go to JC’s salvage, still pretty much living the same life, going out to satisfy his addictions and coming back to sleep and eat. The influence of JC’s had an effect and Danny made a decision to try and try very hard.
One day Danny told the counselor “today I’m going to quit” and he quit cold turkey. Detoxing was not easy or quick. Weeks went by and Danny was still suffering. The people at JC’s took turns watching him and encouraging him but more than once, thinking they would have to call the hospital. Somehow, someway, he seemed to make it to the other side. “I feel cleaner than I have felt for a long, long time,” Danny said.
JC’s told Danny he could stay there and they would find him enough to do to cover his keep and some pocket money to use or save as he chose.
One day, a man from veteran services came to JC’s to talk about what was available to veterans. Danny, although being a veteran was quite sure that nothing was available to him. Almost the first day, he was released from the service he was on the streets, staying high, as many waking hours as he could. He had not taken the time to inquire as to what if anything was available to him and had never been advised to check. Now, he went to the meeting just the same. As it turned out, there was quite a bit available to him and after a little less than a year was able to receive a reasonable disability with back pay, along with several other benefits.
At least once a month, Danny would find a way to get back and see his friend Wade and, on a Sunday, they would have breakfast and quite often would hear that special singer with that special voice. Sometimes he would show up early Saturday, help Wade with some chores, take a shower and change into some clothes he had left with Wade and together go to Saturday service. Not always but once in a while that special lady would sing on Saturday.
Both Wade and Danny had gone through an awful lot and maybe that was why they appreciated what they had. Wade had his little house and Danny had JC’s. Wade had his children to see once in a while and Danny had friends at JC’s. Together they had each other’s company on Sunday and that special singer that they both looked forward to hearing.
Years went by with Danny aging much faster than Wade. The addictions, the drugs and alcohol, the living on the street, had all taken their toll. One day while helping out at JC’s, Danny passed out. An ambulance was called and Danny was rushed to the hospital. When he became conscious again, he told one of JC’s people that he was all right and he was ready to go home. Danny never did go home again; his liver and kidneys could no longer serve him like they were intended to. His body was just worn out. Danny was told he only had a short time and was kept alive in hospice care for three and a half weeks.
From the time he was told, he never seemed to show any fear and to more than one, it seemed he was looking forward to the next life. A priest would come to see him during the week, along with many friends from JC’s.
Military affairs had ben contacted and Joseph, Danial Sullivan’s family had been found and advised of his condition. He had accomplished three tours of duty, been wounded twice and the last time, only one of three survivors of an enemy attack. After completing his third tour, he was given an honorable discharge and just left to a town, different than his home town. Nothing had ben heard from him since.
“Of course, he should have been given transition time to acclimate back into society, before his separation. He should have been time with counselors before separation” one of the senior officers said, “but sometimes they just fall through the cracks”
Wade came to see him and they talked about what they had been through, how they had met, the time they shared and how they had helped each other.
Danny asked Wade if he would take the money he had saved and arrange for a funeral service. “I know there won’t be too many people there but maybe you could put a picture of Donna there because she always seemed to be there with us. Also, it would be nice if you could get a recording of that special singer’s voice and play it. I think that would be nice.”
Wade, trying to hide his wet eyes, said, “You be sure and tell Donna I’m coming along as soon as the boss gets through using me down here. You tell her that and give her my love”.
A small service was arranged, which turned out to be a large service, at the church both had attended, across the street from Wade’s house. To wade’s surprise, a lot more people attended the service than expected.
When It turned out that Danny had been decorated while in service a military funeral was arranged.
As for the singer, when she was told of the situation and her part in bringing him so much joy in his later years, could hardly say yes fast enough. She would be there and was there, although not always singing her best while fighting tears.
I am not a writer but a long time ago, found it fun to write a page or two if it would make someone laugh. Now I write longer stories and people still laugh at me for pretending to be a writer. To me it is entertainment and generally they end on a happy note. Like all my stories I don’t know how or where the story is going much less end. This one just took me to a rather sad ending. Still, I believe it emphasizes how something done to our best, we may never realize, can serve so well. One singer can do a lot! One voice, and whether in the desert or on a microphone, can make a big difference in another person’s life.